Despite a potential $200,000 investment, regional councillors have assured their "moral integrity" will not be compromised by an oil and gas company, a business they are working to prohibit.
This week the Hawke's Bay Regional Council was recommended to partner an investment with OMV - an Austria-based oil and gas company - which had offered a principle investment of $50,000 per year for four years into the Hawke's Bay Regional Biodiversity Strategy.
This is a council-supported community initiative, which takes a regional approach to improving habitats and supporting native species.
It was proposed council match OMV's in principle investment, and leveraged funding from Predator Free NZ 2050 of $50,000 a year was sought.
Over four years, this would provide $600,000 in funds directed toward a community-led project, supported by council, with the vision of a predator-free Mahia.
However this proposal was heavily debated at an Environment and Services Committee meeting on Wednesday. Since late last year the council has been progressing a proposed plan change which would prohibit oil and gas exploration activities in certain areas on land.
It is understood OMV has a permit to undertake exploration activities in Hawke's Bay.
In light of the council's stance, councillors expressed concern over a perceived conflict of interest raised by the investment.
Councillor Neil Kirton said he felt challenged given council's view on oil and gas exploration, "that we are, at this point, quite prepared to jump into bed with this group".
"If you think they're just doing it for the love of communities in New Zealand, well you need to get new glasses.
"This is a situation where we need as a council to say no, this is our position and we ought to move to find other partners much more aligned to our thinking than a redundant dinosaur such as an oil and gas company."
Given there was an "obvious conflict of interest between what this council is proposing to do and the interests of the company that's offering the money", councillor Peter Beaven queried whether OMV had stipulated any conditions around their investment.
Council manager land services Campbell Leckie said he understood the company did not expect a lot of profile around the investment, but did want a "sound plan" for how the money would be used, and ensure reporting was in place.
"Part of this for them is about building relationships in local communities, and so they're very keen ... for their staff to attend probably once a year and participate in some of the activities around."
However councillors stated they were confident that any relationship with OMV would not sway council's decision making, or its regulatory ability.
Councillor Rick Barker spoke against any implication that such investment could affect the council's impartiality "to do what we're supposed to do".
"I value the moral integrity of this council, and for people to imply that this contribution is going to morally compromise any councillor, I reject [that] absolutely."
Wairoa councillor Fenton Wilson - whose ward encompasses Mahia - argued the offer's timing was positive.
"OMV has come out in a process that will actually put more focus on what it does in Hawke's Bay.
"This will be a very public matter and the fact that if we do partner with them on this particular issue, our regulatory space will be even more intense ... with OMV because of the public nature of this relationship."
He stated the project was a "great opportunity" for Mahia, which a community with "co-ordination, willpower, and drive" was now rallying behind.
Councillors also advocated that the council look to partner with other organisations.
OMV did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Its website states it has been "actively searching for additional oil and gas resources in New Zealand".
It holds interests in nine exploration permits - eight as operator - in three offshore production licences or petroleum mining permits in the Taranaki region.
This production makes OMV New Zealand the largest producer of liquid hydrocarbons and the third largest natural gas producer in the country.
The bidding process for oil and gas exploration permits in 5569sq km of Hawke's Bay's offshore marine area under the Government's Block Offer 2017 is open.