Gore's last minute scramble for water
As a crane lifted the concrete panels into place at a multimillion-dollar factory, the Gore District Council was quietly scrambling.
It had signed an agreement to supply an infant milk formula plant with water but the well it was going to draw it from for the next 25 years suddenly wasn't suitable.
News of the $240m Mataura Valley Milk plant at McNab, 5km north of the town, was announced in July 2016. It's a significant development and has boosted the district's economy.
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The original plan was to take raw water from the council's disused Oldham St well.
It was Gore's original well and developed in the 1900s. It had become an emergency supply until a lack of treatment meant it could not meet the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards and it was withdrawn from the town supply.
In the council's own words the well was "not fit for human consumption" and it was estimated $250,000 would be spent to upgrade it. The cost would be met by the council and recovered from Mataura Valley Milk via water supply charges.
The council spent $106,010 on site investigations, design and preliminary site works and a resource consent before work stopped in October 2017, just six months before plant was expected to start its testing in April 2018.
It's not clear who made the call not to use the well.
Mataura Valley Milk general manager Bernard May told Stuff that the council wanted to "keep the well for commercial use," yet council chief executive officer Steve Parry said MVM didn't want to use water from Oldham St because it was "a perception thing."
In response to an Official Information Act request asking why the Oldham St well was abandoned, the councils replied: "the work was stopped because the Gore District Council saw an opportunity to secure an alternative site that was less restrictive than Oldham Street."
Questions still remain about the well but Parry, in an interview, was forthcoming about the situation the council was left in, when the well was mothballed.
"We were scrambling a bit. We had this construction going on and all of a sudden no water for that plant."
In December 2017, the Eastern Southland Softball Association angrily posted on its Facebook page that its diamonds at the Gore A&P Showgrounds had been dug up, with no notification from the council.
At the time, Gore mayor Tracy Hicks said his council "cocked up" by digging up land occupied by two softball diamonds without first telling the softball club of its plans.
He said the council had identified the land as a potential water source for the district, so drilled a test well, hole and trench.
Parry said at the time the digging was carried out, he didn't know the softball association used that ground.
"I just thought it was a paddock. And, when they found water there it was 'Yes! Go and dig the damn thing up'," Parry said.
The council has spent $346,772.74 to construct the new bore at the showgrounds, including costs for finding the water source, infrastructure around it and resource consent costs.
Its resource consent application says the well is "to supply the Gore community including the support of new commercial and industrial development."
The council has consent to take up to 1080m3 of water from the bore daily. Of that amount, the council has an agreement to supply a maximum of 700 m3/day of untreated water to MVM.
There have been grumblings in the community that council put development ahead of residents who deal with water restrictions in summer.
The council has set up a water taskforce and is investigating the potential to incorporate the surplus water from the showground well into the town supply.
In the meantime, it has spent $235,000 to commission a new well to supply the town at Coopers Wells.
Should the council have agreed to supply the plant when water was in such short supply in summer in Gore?
Steve Parry is philosophical about the choices the council made.
"Did we put the needs of industry above those of our ratepayers? Some will say we did, but when you have an industry that wants to spend $240m and create 60 jobs knocking on your door you make it work."