Hearing on West Coast hydro plans begins

8:39 am on 6 December 2016

Some of the 3264 people who made submissions on a proposed hydro electric power scheme on a West Coast river are expected to be heard in Hokitika this week.

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Kayaking on the Waitaha River. Photo: Screenshot / WestCoastFilm

The Department of Conservation has been seeking feedback on its decision to approve in principle an application from Westpower to build and operate the scheme on the Waitaha River between Franz Josef and Hokitika.

A four-day hearing started in Hokitika yesterday. More than 50 submitters were expected to have their say on whether the scheme should go ahead.

Doug Rankin of kayaking organisation Whitewater New Zealand, which opposes the scheme, said it would have an irreversible impact on the pristine area the department was charged with protecting.

"Why do we need another hydro scheme? Just because somebody can do it? There's certainly no demand for power at the moment and there are plenty of other options available.

"So it just is a scheme that really doesn't make sense. And for it to be undertaken and permitted by DOC, on DOC estate which has exceptionally high values."

The organisation sent in a 100-page submission.

"The Morgan Gorge itself is what's known as an outstanding natural feature, the river below the Morgan Gorge and up to the headwaters of the catchment is what's known as an outstanding natural landscape.

"These are very special conservation values which should be looked after under the Conservation Act."

The proposal has gained the support of the West Coast diary industry, with Westland Milk Products and Federated Farmers both making submissions in support of the scheme.

Federated Farmers West Coast treasurer Bob Milne said it would strengthen the area's power supply and have a minimal impact on the environment.

"We've got a lot of small-generation stations on the West Coast ... from Fox Glacier right through to just out of Greymouth.

"They supply most of the load and if the Waitaha scheme was built it would fill a gap in the middle, where there's a wee bit of a supply deficiency." This would make the West Coast close to self sufficient in electricity.

Mr Milne believed many of those against the scheme had not even visited Morgan Gorge.

Westpower chief executive Rob Caldwell said it would not be making any comment while the submission and hearing process was under way.

DOC also declined to comment. The hearing is expected to run until Thursday.