Dam submission controversy

By Simon Hendery

6 comments
Rex Graham
Rex Graham

Hawke's Bay Regional Council shared details of its submission to the Ruataniwha board of inquiry with outside organisations but sidelined its own councillors from the submissions process, it has been claimed.

Earlier this week a group of four councillors complained to Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Environment Minister Amy Adams that they had not been given the opportunity to sign-off on a council submission seeking significant changes to a draft decision from the board.

The draft decision grants consent for the Ruataniwha dam and water storage scheme but imposes strict environmental conditions on Tukituki catchment farmers and growers.

The council fears the conditions will make many farms in the catchment uneconomic but the four councillors - Rex Graham, Rick Barker, Tom Belford and Peter Beaven - say they support the environmental benefits of the draft decision.

They have asked the ministers for a time extension so they can lodge their own submission on the draft decision but by yesterday they had not had a response to that request.

Council chief executive Liz Lambert said earlier in the week it was not considered necessary for councillors to approve the organisation's submission before it was submitted, in part because it was technical in nature and there were tight time pressures to meet the submission deadline.

The council's chairman, Fenton Wilson, said he had not seen the submission until this week when it was made public by the Environmental Protection Authority. Mr Wilson said it was not councillors' job to sign-off all documents. The upset councillors yesterday pointed to comments in other submissions to the board of inquiry which appeared to show outside organisations had seen the regional council submission, even though they hadn't. A submission to the board from Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea said it had "had the benefit of seeing in advance the detailed comments of Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company Limited [the council's investment arm]".

A submission from Horticulture New Zealand also appeared to refer to details of the council's submission. "The question is, why should they get the opportunity to see and review the submissions of the council and not councillors?" Mr Barker said. "Why should entities outside the council have better access to HBRC's submissions, be able to comment on them with knowledge and elected councillors be deprived of such an opportunity?"

Mrs Lambert said to her knowledge, details of the submission were not shared with other organisations other than there being "general discussion around implementing the draft plan change as it stands". She was not aware of the council's submission being circulated ahead of it being lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority.

Mr Graham said while he and the other three councillors were frustrated over the issue, and had clashed with Mr Wilson on this and other matters, the council was not dysfunctional.

"My personal motives are for the [Tukituki] river. When I'm 80 I want to be able to look back and say that river is still clean and I did some little thing to help it," he said. "There are no funny motives going on in our camp."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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