A board of inquiry has approved resource consents for the $275 million Ruataniwha dam and water storage scheme proposed for Central Hawke's Bay.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council has proposed building the dam as a way of alleviating drought problems and boosting the local economy through improved primary production on the Ruataniwha Plains near Waipawa and Waipukurau.
The project would involve the construction an 83-metre-high concrete dam on the Makaroro River to store water for irrigating 25,000 hectares of land across the plains.
Following a hearing between November last year and January this year, the five-member board of inquiry released its draft decision on resource consent applications for the scheme today, along with associated changes to the Hawke's Bay Regional Resource Management Plan.
Changes to the management plan, affecting the Tukituki River catchment, are needed because of the impact the scheme would have of the catchment.
In its decision the board granted the 17 resource consent applications relating to the dam and water storage scheme, subject to conditions.
It allowed the plan change based on a detailed set of conditions including limits on nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Tukituki catchment.
The regional council had argued during the hearing that only phosphorus levels needed to be controlled but environmental groups pushed for the inclusion of restrictions on nitrogen as well.
The board, which is headed by retired High Court Judge Lester Chisholm, will consider submissions on its draft decision before issuing a final determination which is due by May 28.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council's corporate and strategic committee will tomorrow consider a proposal to spend $80,000 on a public consultation process ahead of a vote by councillors in late June on whether to invest up to $80 million of ratepayers' money into the Ruataniwha project.
The council's commercial arm, Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company Ltd, is currently in the process of trying to firm up other forms of funding - from private investors and the Government - in order for the project to go ahead.
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