Water storage planning costs have exceed $4m

By Lawrence Gullery

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Planning costs for the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme have exceeded $4 million, with expenditure budgeted to increase to $11 million by April 2014.

The total capital costs for the project to June 2013 was $4.543 million, funded via the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), Hawke's Bay Regional Council and the regional council's investment company.

MPI funded half of the scheme's "Phase 2" costs, which was $1.944 million, the regional council contributed $80,000 and the investment company $2.518 million.

The figures form part of the investment company's financial report, which will be reviewed by the regional council at its meeting in Napier tomorrow. The report is available to the public and the final day for people to hand in submissions on the water scheme, to be considered by the board of inquiry, is this Friday. .

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson acknowledged the "big figures" around the cost of the scheme but believed the expenditure was a valuable investment, whether the proposal went ahead or not.

"We signalled pretty clearly all the way that this thing is expensive. It is a big figure we can't get past. We entered into a proposal a few years ago on the understanding it was going to take a lot of money to say yes or no to this project.

"There is some comfort, we are getting close to the end of the spend and it is a big investment, we have had to make some big decisions and they have been decisions not made lightly."

Councillor Wilson said the Tukituki catchment had been one of the most thoroughly researched and investigated in the country, as a result of planning and reviews completed for the water storage scheme.

"The money we have spent has come out of our investment portfolio, and used as capital in the project, we can get it back if the dam goes ahead, or we put it down to the fact we now have a lot of useful data on the catchment. There has been some ground-breaking science achieved that will not go to waste if this project does not go ahead."

There was $729,222 spent on the project in June 2013 in two areas, the Phase 2 costs and application for the scheme to be considered by the Environmental Protect Authority (EPA).

In the breakdown, $605,821 was spent on Phase 2, which included $56,344 on regional council staff time on meetings with landowners, site investigations, ongoing negotiations with investors.

There was $17,292 in Phase 2 spent on "optimisation work", which included developing an "environmental flow" study and there was $316,998 spent on work related to geotectonical investigations.

A further $190,090 was spent on other consultants to cover work, such as modelling and mitigation options, technical advisers overseeing geotectonical investigations, water contract and sales advisory costs, various landowner meetings and negotiations, preparation of reports, Mana Whenua Working Party and work relating to community and social engagement.

There was also $25,097 spent on commercial legal services as part of Phase 2 in June.

The EPA costs in June 2013 totalled $123,401 and it included $68,401 spent on a project team of consultants to look at reviewing and commenting on revisions of the EPA's public notice advising of the scheme, drafting letters to the EPA and responding to questions.

There was also $55,000 of costs incurred by the EPA for June. The financial report said the projected budget to April 2014 was $11.182 million and it would also be funded by MPI ($3.464 million), regional council ($466,000) and its investment company ($7.252 million).

The EPA said there had been about 100 submissions handed into the Board of Inquiry to date, including 82 transferred from regional council.

The EPA appointed Hawke's Bay lawyer Alison McEwan as the "friend of the submitter" to provide advice on how to make a submission. Many people had called the 0800 number set up to speak with Mrs McEwan and the numbers attending drop-in sessions for more information on the project had varied.

Most of those people speaking with Mrs McEwan were between 40-70 years old.

"Common themes have been, when will the hearing be, how long will they have to present their submission, can they give evidence from experience they have as a farmer, whether people are better to submit on-line or post a hard copy submission and whether they can file a submission about the economics of the application."

The EPA said the Resource Management Act stipulates the hearing must be held at a place "near to the area to which the matter related".

"We expect to announce the location of the hearing soon, and this will be placed on the Tukituki Catchment Proposal section of the EPA website."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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