7 Sep 2018

Waimea Dam investor that revived project remains a mystery

4:14 pm on 7 September 2018

A mystery investment which helped get approval for the Waimea Dam project near Nelson is likely to remain anonymous for now.

Farmers and growers argue that a dam will help solve increasing water shortages in rural Tasman.

Farmers and growers argue that a dam will help solve increasing water shortages in rural Tasman. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The investment is for $11 million, and it helped Tasman District Council put the dam project back on course after it was blocked for financial reasons last week.

While little is being said about the investment, RNZ understands it comes in the form of convertible preference shares from an institutional investor, possibly a nominee company from in or around Richmond.

The decision to go ahead was welcomed by Mayor of Tasman Richard Kempthorne, who said scheme was needed for town and rural water supplies as well as steady river flows.

"The hope is we should be able to start work in February."

The investment, which Radio New Zealand revealed today, will gather interest payments pending conversion into common shares, which is mandatory at an unspecified date in the future.

The investment will mean virtually all shares in Waimea Irrigators Ltd will be subscribed.

The company that invested said it was on a condition that it should be confidential.

However, it was likely the investor would be revealed eventually either when the final deeds for the dam were signed by 15 December, or when Waimea Irrigators issued its next annual report.

John Palmer, who is an adviser to Waimea Irrigators Ltd, said the investment came from within New Zealand, but would say no more.

The Waimea Dam would provide water for 100 years and there should be more forward-looking actions like this in New Zealand, he said.

The matter still has some way to go, with final agreements having to be signed before a deadline for government money expires in December.

In addition, a law change needs to go through parliament, allowing 9.5 hectares of Department of Conservation land to be used for the dam.

This law has been proposed as a local bill by the National MP Nick Smith, and it is likely to be introduced into parliament mid-September.

The bill is assured of passage, since it is supported by both Labour and National.

The proposed dam would be 53m-high, and store 13 million cubic metres of water in a 70-hectare lake in the Lee Valley, inland from Richmond.

It escaped April's crackdown by the government on state-subsidised irrigation schemes, because the project was too far advanced for its contracts to be unravelled.

There is quiet confidence in the region that the value of land and irrigation deals in the region will rise in value, because the Waimea Plains should avoid the dehydration that happens elsewhere during hot summers.

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