24 Oct 2014

Not everyone happy about dam plan

10:35 am on 24 October 2014

News that ratepayers in the entire Tasman district are being expected to foot the bill for a controversial dam in the Lee Valley is being met with anger by some residents.

Many in the horticultural and business sector say they need access to more water, but others say that is not fair when the scheme will only benefit a few of them.

Water users on the Waimea Plains say a Lee Valley dam is essential to secure the region's future.

Water users on the Waimea Plains say a Lee Valley dam is essential to secure the region's future. Photo: PHOTO NZ

After months of speculation and accusations of clandestine council meetings, the true cost of the Waimea Community Dam to ratepayers has finally been delivered.

The Tasman District Council has based its proposed rate increases on the dam costing either $60 million or $80 million to build. On that basis, a residential property in Richmond, for example, with a GV of $485,000 would see an annual rates increase of up to $420 per year.

Richard Kempthorne.

Richard Kempthorne. Photo: RNZ

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said he understands the impact on ratepayers is a hard pill to swallow.

"It's a huge imposition on them, but the reality is people do need to know that there is a big cost to this. And there's a big cost if we proceed with the dam - it will cost people in their rates, but there's also a big cost if we don't proceed, because there will be what we would expect to be a significant impact on our horticultural and commercial businesses."

People in other parts of the district like Golden Bay and Motueka, who believe they will not benefit from the dam based further south in the Lee Valley, said it was not fair they have to pick up the tab.

But Mr Kempthorne said people in those communities need to look at the bigger picture: "The whole district benefits from a healthy economy and the whole district suffers when our economy suffers."

Resident and former Tasman mayoral candidate Maxwell Clark has provided evidence from the World Commission on Dams which shows - on average - the cost of dams over-run by 56 percent and the council is simply not in a position to risk that.

"We're the third highest debt ratio council in the country and so to then go and think about spending in excess of $100 million again, it doesn't make commercial sense. It's bizarre and in my view, it will financially cripple the community and its ratepayers."

The Waimea Irrigators and Water Users group is also opposed to the dam. Chairperson Mary Ellen O'Connor argues that those rates increases could go up even further if the cost of the dam spirals.

Damien O'Connor.

Damien O'Connor. Photo: SUPPLIED

"I think it's probably fair to say that a lot of our residential ratepayers here in Richmond have very little idea of what's going on with this dam, and very little idea of the subsidies that they are going to have to be providing."

The council says the burden on Tasman ratepayers will go down if it receives funding from the Nelson City Council, but it says it will not comment on whether it will contribute until a report it commissioned on the dam is discussed at the council table.

Local MP Damien O'Connor admits he remains undecided. "I'm not sure whether it's necessary or a good investment. The question I have is, how does the growing population source this water if the dam doesn't go ahead?"

Tasman council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie said speculation the council's already said yes to the dam is simply not true.

"We've been criticised for having made our minds up - that's just so wrong. What's going on here is a logical process of making sure that the bits of the jigsaw are assembled so that once the consultation processes are concluded, the council can make an informed decision."

  • The consultation period closes on 14 November and a final decision on whether or not to build a dam is expected in June next year.
The red square indicates the site of the proposed dam.

The red square indicates the site of the proposed dam. Photo: Tasman District Council