Dam D-day but farmers in the dark

By Sophie Price

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The site of the proposed 80-metre Ruataniwha Dam.
The site of the proposed 80-metre Ruataniwha Dam.

Today marks D-day for farmers to sign up to the Ruataniwha dam, but the investment company will not say publicly whether or not this vital target has been met for the project.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council Investment Company (HBRIC) chief executive Andrew Newman said the company would not release the figures until it had reported back to its shareholder, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, and potential investors, which is expected to take a couple of weeks.

"We have an obligation to ensure our shareholders and potential investors are fully informed before we release any information publicly," Mr Newman said.

The water sign-up of 45 million cu m is one of the conditions that have to be met before the regional council will invest the remaining $66 million into the dam.

This date was included in the investment company's latest report to council, which also signalled revised headline water price up by 5c on the infrastructure charge and 1c on the variable energy charge.

The company said the result of the changes meant it had reissued revised water user agreements with the price adjustments.

All parties who had, or were contemplating, signing a water user agreement would need to sign this new agreement, the report states.

They were given to April 18 to complete this process.

In the report, HBRIC said based on "anecdotal feedback" the mood was of commitment and some parties expressed intent to take more water.

This deadline comes following the latest Butcher Report which showed an $87 million increase in the cost of the dam build and a $200 million jump in on farm investment.

Martin Williams, who is running for a seat on the regional council at this year's local authority elections, said despite an increased cost to service an additional 1250ha of land for orchards and vineyards, the overall return on the scheme was actually greater than previously assessed.

However, the use of such farming to boost job numbers was questioned by viticulture pundit Robin Sage.

With more than 35 years' industry experience, Mr Sage said he had seen what had happened with people who tried to make a sustainable business out of grape growing on the Ruataniwha plains.

"I don't believe it is a sustainable land use down there because there are too many variables in the weather department," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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