Ratepayers will more than likely contribute $80 million to the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.
At an extraordinary meeting yesterday the Hawke's Bay Regional Council Council agreed that three conditions have now been satisfied. These relate to consents for the scheme, the design and construction contract and water user uptake.
After reviewing a report from its investment company HBRIC Ltd the Council agreed that three of the four conditions it required before investment could proceed have been met.
An independent financial review from Deloitte was also discussed in the public-excluded session which drew the ire of protesters outside.
The public were allowed into the council chambers once councillors were ready to vote on the two matters.
HBRIC chairman Andy Pearce told the meeting that the company directors believed the $80 million investment was "necessary".
"I challenge anyone in this room to come up with another project that will give us those kinds of benefits."
He said the un-named co-investor was large and looked for long-term stable investments. HBRIC's liability was limited to $80m and there would be no recourse to HBRIC's subsidiaries, the council or ratepayers. That included the Port of Napier, he said.
Alan Dent presented Deloitte's independent financial review which found the business case to be robust.
Mr Dent said the breakeven point for the project was to be water uptake volume of 41.5 million cu m. Signed water uptake sits at 42.6 million cu m.
While HBRIC's investigations supports the "assumption" there will be demand for water, Mr Dent said water uptake remains the key project risk.
Councillor Peter Beaven asked Mr Dent how he would vote if he was in the councillor's shoes.
Mr Dent said his instinct was that to do nothing was not an option.
"This is something that should happen."
Given Mr Dent's assurance that the conditions had been met, councillor Rick Barker said he had no reason not to agree.
The council agreed that three of the four conditions it required before investment could proceed have been met.
It agreed that after an extensive Board of Inquiry process the scheme has the necessary consents to proceed, it has a bankable fixed term-fixed price design and construction contract and farmers have signed up to take more than 40 million cubic metres of water.
Council heard from HBRIC Ltd that the fourth and final condition relating to investment in the scheme is almost satisfied and will be confirmed to a council meeting in the next few weeks.
Councillor Debbie Hewitt said irrigation projects were "confidence-pavers" for communities as it brought jobs.
"Irrigation is a gift to the community that just keeps on giving."
Councillor Beaven agreed the dam was a gift but one that brought heartache and more meetings.
While voting for the recommendation, Mr Beaven said the public were entitled to know "who we're jumping into bed with," in regards to the dam investor. Protesters outside the meeting were certain it was government body ACC.
The only two councillors who voted the conditions had not been met were councillors Rex Graham and Tom Belford.
Mr Graham said he could not support the vote as he did not yet understand the numbers from Deloitte. It's too "airy fairy" at the moment with the investor not being confirmed, he said.
While Mr Belford said he had concerns for the environment and wanted to be the voice for those who spoke out in opposition to the project.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council Chairman Fenton Wilson said it was a significant milestone for the scheme, but there was more work to be done by HBRIC Ltd before financial close, which was expected to be within the next few weeks.
IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis echoed his sentiments, calling it a "game changer" for the region.
"It's well proven when water storage schemes proceed, the whole community benefits hugely. We're not just talking about new jobs and employment, but greater social, recreational and environmental opportunities as well.
Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay Provincial President Will Foley said the dam would protect farmers' productivity through dry summers.
Farmers in the region have signed a 35-year contract for the scheme and will make adjustments from traditional dry-land farming to irrigation farming.
"It's been a long time in the making but there's a real sense of excitement around how positive this is for the region," Mr Foley said.
HBRIC Ltd will now complete negotiations with other investors.
The timing of the drawdown will be subject to confirmation of full access to the land proposed for exchange with the Department of Conservation, or adequate financial protection of council funds.