Wairarapa dam exit strategy needed: MP

By Alisa Yong alisa.yong@age.co.nz -
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Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri says the Wairarapa irrigation scheme needs "off-ramps". PHOTO/ALISA YONG
Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri says the Wairarapa irrigation scheme needs "off-ramps". PHOTO/ALISA YONG

An exit strategy should be a vital part of any proposed irrigation scheme, says Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri.

During a visit to Wairarapa on Wednesday the Labour MP said Wairarapa could learn from the Ruataniwha dam project, and that "off-ramps" were a necessary part of such projects.

Last week a report was made public that put the cost of the Hawke's Bay irrigation scheme at more than $900 million -- $300million higher than previous estimates.

Ms Whaitiri said she supported water storage and regional development but as a Hawke's Bay ratepayer she had been outspoken about holding the council, and its investment company, to account.

"There's been all those lessons that I've seen unfold from the Ruataniwha dam so coming to Wairarapa I'm just like 'oh my gosh, you need off-ramps' so that would be my message to whoever is investing in the dam, you need at some point to be able to say this isn't working, we need to pull out."

There was a potential conflict of interest in having a regulator like a council also working to develop the project, she said.

"You definitely, definitely need to have an arm's length if you are going to create council-controlled organisations then you need to have some really robust relationships around how you manage how far they go and then again how much you pull back as the investor.

"And of course if you need water contracts to sign up you can't keep extending those, people either sign it because they understand the returns or the cost or they don't. If they don't you've got to call the project. With the Ruataniwha dam people are just so involved with it, they are driving it, that's what it looks like to me. It's become a personal project instead of a proper regional investment project for the region.

"Each dam is different so I'm not trying to say what you are doing here is the same, but there's definitely some lessons."

Ms Whaitiri visited Te Awhina Cameron Community House in Masterton as part of her trip to Wairarapa and said she was keen to start holding public drop-in sessions there as well as running a series of "street corner meetings" to connect with the public.

"My ideal is to do a lot of street corner meetings so people don't have to come out of their homes. I'm trying to reach out to constituents on a very practical, very personal level on the street rather than standing in a hall and you're removed from them or through the media it's so impersonal -- I quite like the personal touch."

Ms Whaitiri said it was likely the meetings would be held on weekends and begin in Masterton east.

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