Glen Robertshaw: It is the people who should decide the damSave
By Dr Glen Robertshaw
On the 10th May the review commissioned by Hawke's Bay Regional Council of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme (RWSS) was released.
It has been suggested that council will make a decision whether or not to proceed with the project at their meeting on the 31st of May.
However, Transparent Hawke's Bay urges HBRC to allow the public to have their own "cup of tea" and be given time to digest this review, and ultimately have their say.
There is no pressing need to make a decision by the 31st of May, as the project is currently on hold due to the legal case about the land swap deal between the Department of Conservation and HBRIC.
As a ruling is not expected within the next few months, this provides council the perfect opportunity to properly consider the public's views before deciding whether to proceed or not.
Some may argue that the public has already been consulted about this project. However, those consultations have been heavily criticised, and there have been some significant changes to the scheme since those previous consultations.
- An acknowledgement in the review, from HBRC staff, that Plan Change 6 (which are the regulations that HBRC will use to enforce environmental limits) is not workable and the environmental outcomes not achievable, with or without the dam, and that it needs changing.
- A proposed additional $80 million loan by HBRIC is needed to help pay dividends to HBRC.
- Major changes to the dam type, structure and construction, as well as the distribution network and RWSS use of the rivers, streams and Lake Whatuma.
- A new irrigation zone has been added and others significantly expanded.
- Increased construction costs (Last estimated to be $340 million in July 2016, but now likely to be higher due to inflation in construction environment).
- There will now be no hydroelectric generation "for the foreseeable future" (this was considered to be a major benefit by the Board of Inquiry).
- A likely increase in water price for users, as the Foundation Water User contracts are renewed in the next few months.
In combination, these changes represent a significantly different proposition from that which has been consulted on previously, and we believe this warrants HBRC re-consulting with the public on whether they want to proceed or not.
This would provide clarity about the public's opinion for councillors, and ensure that the decision that is made is the right one for Hawke's Bay. Not only that, but this would be an opportunity for council to regain some of the public trust that has been eroded over the past few years.
James Palmer, who headed the review, states in his summary "A key finding of this Review is that substantial environmental risks and uncertainty exist for the Council in this catchment with or without the RWSS".
Ultimately, it is the people of Hawke's Bay who should decide whether to take those risks or not.
Dr Glen Robertshaw is a member of Transparency Hawke's Bay.