Bruce Bisset: Storage scheme a fait accompli

By Bruce Bisset

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Conceding the scheme as proposed will cause significant problems, writes Bisset, but Regional Council Chairman Fenton Wilson is confident the Ruataniwha dam will be built. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Conceding the scheme as proposed will cause significant problems, writes Bisset, but Regional Council Chairman Fenton Wilson is confident the Ruataniwha dam will be built. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Anyone doubting the Ruataniwha water storage scheme is a fait accompli should examine the questions regional council chairman Fenton Wilson trotted out to try to excuse the South Island junket he and other senior Hawke's Bay politicos were on this week.

Not that he nor CHB mayor Peter Butler nor presumably their CEOs should have any questions, given they've been rabidly rubbing their hands together to fire up the idea since it was first a twinkle of desire in quasi-former HBRC CEO (now HBRIC managing director) Andrew Newman's eye.

For that matter, Hastings deputy mayor Cynthia Bowers is probably (but more quietly) as rabid, given she and husband (and ex-HBRC deputy chairman) Ewan McGregor own land bordering the to-be-intensified zone.

So arguably only Wairoa mayor Craig Little and Napier CEO Wayne Jack gained anything of value from a tour that examined existing irrigation schemes and the spin-offs therefrom.

Or as the PR put it, finding out "what secure water can do for a region".

I note the junket also took in "tourism initiatives". Nice.

But back to those questions. Questions Wilson claims these mostly pro-the-dam-come-what-may bigwigs still need to have answered before they can vote.

These were listed as how irrigated communities handle growth, increased pressures on the environment following intensification, utilising technology to mitigate issues and changing land use.

Apart from being the only time in his press release Wilson mentioned the word "environment", if you think about that list it assumes the dam - and subsequent intensification - is a given.

No question about how to prevent the environment being adversely affected by intensification. Only questions about how those effects are best mitigated after the damage is done.

In other words, conceding the scheme as proposed will cause significant problems, so they'd best go find out how to deal with them.

This backside-before-front approach suggests the council's role to "protect and enhance" the environment has been well and truly subsumed in the rush to turn water into gold.

Not convinced? Play spot the contradiction: Wilson, in one breath, saying he was confident the dam would be built; and in the next, that councillors were "still a mile away" from making any decision.

Let's be honest here, Fenton: HBRC made the decision to build this scheme four years ago; you've pushed it as fast and as loudly as possible ever since; and regardless of what conditions may be put on it by the Board of Inquiry, if they allow it at all you'll still back it. Repeated declarations of confidence in the scheme say as much.

Certainly the fact it may turn out to be a spectacularly uneconomic flop that beggars the region for the next 50 years appears irrelevant to those betting on a short-term gain in land prices. A marginal scenario might, however, save ratepayers $80 million if HBRC itself decides only to approve, not to invest.

Meanwhile the Board of Inquiry has been granted a month's extension to the process so they can better work through the complexities of the issues, including the scope of technical disagreement on key points regarding water quality and the effects of intensification.

In support of the need for delay, the BOI also pointed up the precedent-setting implications of their decision. They are, in short, being mindful to take due care.

These are precisely the reasons Ngati Kahungunu, Fish & Game, and ordinary concerned citizens advanced for delaying the move to a Board of Inquiry in the first place. A request the regional council refused to entertain.

But there's no question as to why that was, is there.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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