A Northland farm trust is seeking consents to build a hydro-electric power station capable of generating 3 megawatts of electricity that would help secure the region's energy supply in disasters.
Glenview Estate, owned by Neil and Dianne Lewis, has applied to the Northland Regional Council for consents to divert water from the Wairua River by building a low weir, digging, drilling, and blasting a short power canal.
Water from the river will be diverted to two turbines to generate about 3 megawatts of power.
The Lewis family trust, SBS Family Trust, is owned by Glenview Estate, which operates a 600-cow dairy farm and a small basalt quarry on Knight Rd in Kokopu, 21km west of Whangārei.
The Wairua River has two large waterfalls. The first is at Titoki where Northpower operates the Wairua hydroelectric power station, while the second is unnamed and it's where Glenview intends to divert water around to a new power station.
But the Whatitiri Resource Management Unit (WRMU) has asked NRC to immediately withdraw the consent application until proper consultation with the local hapū was done.
Spokesman Millan Ruka called for appropriate consultation to be had with his hapū that allowed a site visit, time to assess the application and gain advice, and to prepare an assessment of environmental effects and a cultural impact report.
In a letter to NRC consents manager Stuart Savill, Ruka said the application has a huge potential impact on his hapū's rohe awa and that all hapū in the catchment have a rightful concern of their shared waterways.
"There is a process for such applications and clearly there is yet another breach of goodwill and trust that we have come to expect from our NRC, particularly when water-related, and with our places of significance."
NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall said the council would process the application for consents according to the Resource Management Act.
Neil Lewis said the cost of the project and other details were yet to be worked out and depended on his family trust getting the necessary consents.
Plans for a power station were born out of the fact that more sustainable farm practices were being demanded by the Government and Fonterra, he said.
"We've got a natural topography on our farm and can supply an awful lot of power. We're just testing the waters at the moment," he said.
In their application to NRC, the Lewises said the power station would be a regionally and nationally significant project that would boost Northland's security of energy supply in the instance of natural disasters, and would help New Zealand meet carbon-reduction goals.
"It is obvious that this new generated, renewable energy can not be taken away to the big cities in times of shortage and provide carbon-free energy to Northland."
They said 480 metres out of the several hundred kilometres of the river and its tributaries made the size of the water diversion for the power project "very small".
"The fact that all the water diverted is returned to the river within 480 metres, meaning a zero take, combined with the fact the Wairua is a river that has no outstanding features and has poor water quality, makes the application exceptional in circumstance."
The Regional Water Plan did not name the Wairua River as having outstanding features and values and none of the fish caught in the area of the proposed diversion were threatened, the application stated.
Plans are in place whereby any eels and elvers that enter the penstocks are safely released back into the river.
The Lewises said members of the local iwi have pointed out that the portion of the river diverted around would never have been used as it was far too dangerous to navigate and too fast-flowing to try fishing for eels in.
They said Harry Tuhiwai, a representative of the Kotokota Marae situated next to the Wairua River in Titoki, was in charge of the elver relocation programme at the Northpower station and would help with the proposed project in terms of building an elver ladder.
If anything, the Lewises said, water quality would be improved because water travelling through the penstocks would be filtered and oxygenated.
The project created less than minor adverse effects at most and their application for consents should be successful without public consultation, they said.