Cunliffe dam site visit in doubt

By Lawrence Gullery

Environmental lobbyists could not visit the proposed Ruataniwha dam site.
Environmental lobbyists could not visit the proposed Ruataniwha dam site.

Labour leader David Cunliffe's plans to visit the proposed Ruataniwha dam site today may change after it was discovered the site is closed until October 10.

Mr Cunliffe, Labour's spokesperson on regional development, will be in Hawke's Bay to speak with representatives of Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated. His group had then planned to visit the dam site in Central Hawke's Bay but had difficulty contacting land owner Craig Preston for permission.

Two other access points to the dam via Maori land had 1080 poison deployed recently and were unavailable.

The back up plan was to visit other areas of the Tukituki River, including the river mouth near Haumoana.

Environmental lobbyists also hoping to visit the proposed dam can't access the site before their reports are due to be handed in to the Tukituki Catchment Proposal.

Te Taiao Environment Forum spokesperson John Cheyne said he was told by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council that access to the site would not be allowed until October 10 but the deadline for expert evidence to be handed into the Board of Inquiry, which is reviewing the catchment proposal, was October 8.

Mr Cheyne contacted Mr Preston to ask if a small group of forum members and expert witnesses from the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) could visit the site last week. The request was turned down.

"I had a chat to Mr Preston, who I have known for a long time, and he said to call the Hawke's Bay Regional Council because there were some rules in place governing that site.

"I spoke to Graham Hansen [water initiatives manager] at the regional council who explained the land was closed until the 10th of October because of lambing and calving."

The group was able to visit another part of the catchment via public road access near the Ruahine Forest Park, he said.

"I totally understand Craig's property rights and his decision to refer me to regional council. We have to accept that Te Taiao and EDS expert witnesses weren't able to access the dam but it will disadvantage us when preparing evidence, and that will probably apply to other submitters as well."

Mr Cheyne said the forum had received funding from the Ministry for the Environment to help with its submission to the Board of Inquiry.

"The legal assistance was used to employ a terrestrial ecologist, looking at the forest areas, native vegetation, distribution of animals like lizards, bats and insects."

A study by consultants Kessels and Associates for the regional council released in 2012 measured the likely ecological impact of the dam.

It found one "at-risk" plant species at the site; the red mistletoe, while nationally at-risk birds such as the pied stilt, New Zealand pipit, black shag and North Island fern bird were also living in the area.

The total area affected by flooding and the dam structure was about 450ha and about 163ha or 36 per cent was covered in indigenous vegetation. A total of 37 bird species, 11 endemic, were identified at the proposed reservoir and of these birds, 55 per cent were native.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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