Power boss defends $100,000 donation to Westport floodwalls

6:33 pm on 24 September 2021

Buller Electricity Trust chairman Frank Dooley is urging Westport people to get in behind the plan to protect the town with floodwalls and stopbanks.

Buller High School and surrounds in Westport, flooding, 17 July 2021

Westport was flooded in July Photo: Supplied/NZ Defence Force

The company has committed to donating $100,000 a year for the next 25 years towards the cost of the protection scheme recently adopted by West Coast Regional Council.

Some members of the public have reportedly criticised the gesture, arguing that any spare cash the power company has should be channelled back directly to consumers.

But Dooley said not one of its 4730 customers has rung Buller Electricity to object.

"In fact, people are saying good on you. From the trust's point of view, our assets took a hammering from floods in February 2019 and again in July, and it's a matter of being proactive and protecting them."

Buller Electricity was in good financial health and already had a sponsorship budget of $250,000 a year which it spent in the Westport community with much of the money going to youth ventures, Dooley said.

"So we've added $100,000 to that budget to help with flood protection. We support the regional council and anyone else who wants to make a contribution to the project."

The flood scheme needed to be affordable for ratepayers and Buller Electricity had argued in its submission on the council's long-term plan that the term of the $10 million loan should be extended.

In the meantime, Buller Electricity's contribution would bring down the cost to Westport households by $15 per $100,000 of a property's CV, Dooley said.

"Most of our customers live in Westport, and we have assets here with a replacement value of $50m. This last flood cost us $350,000 in damage."

Flood protection was the responsibility of the regional council, and Westport ratepayers had spent enough money on consultants over the years to know it was needed, Dooley said.

"What happened in July was predicted five years ago but still we're unprotected. It's in the interests of the entire district to protect Westport as the commercial and service centre, and the councils need to work together and crack on with it without further delays."

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