Ministers give dam board second time extension

By Simon Hendery

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TIMELY: Minister Nick Smith extended the deadline in February. PHOTO/FILE
TIMELY: Minister Nick Smith extended the deadline in February. PHOTO/FILE

Cabinet ministers Nick Smith and Amy Adams have stepped into the board of inquiry process for the Ruataniwha dam for a second time.

Conservation Minister Smith and Environment Minister Adams have approved a month-long extension to the deadline for the board to issue its final decision on consents for the dam and an associated environmental plan change.

The extension was requested by Hawke's Bay Regional Council, the promoter of the proposed dam and water storage scheme for Central Hawke's Bay.

The council is also the authority responsible for regulating changes to the Regional Resource Management Plan - known as Plan Change 6 - relating to the Tukituki catchment, which the board has been considering with the dam consents.

The board issued a draft decision last month approving the dam and introducing wide-reaching environmental conditions for the catchment under Plan Change 6.

Those conditions have alarmed the council and some Central Hawke's Bay farmers and growers who fear the strict nutrient limits and minimum water flow restrictions the board is looking to impose will make production in the catchment uneconomic.

Submissions on the board's draft decision closed yesterday and under the Resource Management Act it had been required to produce a final, binding decision by May 28.

Regional council chief executive Liz Lambert said yesterday the council requested the extension because it was concerned 12 days was not enough time for the board to adequately consider the "bucket-load of comments" it would receive from submitters.

"We were concerned they should be given the flexibility to absorb all the comments received and perhaps get some independent advice on that," Mrs Lambert said.

The ministers accepted the council's argument and granted the board an extension until June 28.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said if the draft decision were confirmed by the board, it could have "a very serious detrimental impact on this region's community, not only for the farmers but for those employed by the food processing companies which rely heavily on primary production".

The draft decision included additional consent demands for land users, with about 1000 farms in the catchment required to produce a farm management plan by 2018, and more than 700 likely to require land-use consents for farming activities.

"There simply isn't the capability and capacity to produce this many farm management plans by 2018," Mr Curtis said.

Regional councillors are split over whether the draft proposal is a blow for the economy or a win for the environment that can be successfully managed through sustainable land use.

The issue was hotly debated at the council's regional planning committee this week where a number of councillors queried the findings of a staff report on the economic impact of the draft decision.

Oliver Parsons, senior policy adviser with DairyNZ, said the industry body supported the board of inquiry's vision for sustainable growth within sound environmental limits. "But from an implementation perspective, it is clear that parts of the draft decision would make this impossible," he said.

"Instead of sustainable growth, the draft decision would require a 40 per cent claw-back on existing rural production. In a community that has already suffered from years of economic decline and is stretched to the limit, that just doesn't make sense and goes against the purpose of the Resource Management Act."

The ministers granted a one-month extension to the board in February, after they asked for extra time to prepare their draft report.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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