Progress on the Ruataniwha Dam has suffered another delay, as an appeal on a controversial land swap is taken to the Supreme Court.
DOC today sought leave to appeal the court's direction that the Director-General reconsider his decision on a land exchange for the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.
Earlier this month, the court upheld Forest and Bird's appeal that a land swap involving areas of the Ruahine Forest Park which would allow the Ruataniwha Dam to proceed, was unlawful.
In March, the environment group appealed a High Court decision allowing a swap of 22ha of the Ruahine Forest Park for 170ha of land the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company Ltd (HBRIC) would potentially buy from Smedley Station.
This would downgrade the protected conservation status of the land to allow it to be flooded as part of the water storage scheme.
This morning DOC announced they had decided to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
"We are making this appeal because the effect of the decision on the management of public conservation land is a matter of public importance," Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said.
"DOC needs absolute clarity on whether it can consider the broader conservation picture in decisions about the management of public conservation land, or not."
Barry wouldn't comment further as the matter was now before the courts.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council's investment company HBRIC Ltd is doing the same and is also seeking urgency for the matter to be heard.
The company believed the land exchange would provide significant enhancements to the conservation values of the area.
HBRIC Chairman Andy Pearce said, "there was a strong commitment from HBRIC, and those involved, to deliver the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme and its wide-ranging environmental, social and economic benefits to our local community."
Forest and Bird have said many New Zealanders would be baffled by the Minister of Conservation seeking to overturn the appeal court decision that she acted illegally in trying to remove specially protected land from the Ruahine Forest Park to allow a dam.
Forest and Bird's acting chief executive Mike Kotlyar said the Court of Appeal carefully considered the purpose for which land was protected under the Conservation Act and held "that the Minister can't treat public conservation land as if there were a "revolving door" between protected and not protected".
"The ultimate outcome sought by this challenge is to enable the controversial Ruataniwha Dam to proceed. We doubt New Zealanders would consider it to be the Conservation Minister's role to support irrigation schemes like this," he said.
Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Gen Toop said this appeal was an extreme case of "flogging a dead horse".
"It's time the regional council ditches the dam," she said. "The good news is that while a costly appeal drags out the dam is dead in the water, meaning the local election matters.
"People worried about the proposed dam's impact on water quality should make they vote.
"The makeup of the new council will be one of the deciding factors as to whether the dam proceeds."
- Hawke's Bay Today, NZ Herald
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