20 Oct 2018

Waimea Community Dam faces final hurdle

7:38 am on 20 October 2018

A very long-running plan to build a dam in the Tasman District is on its final lap.

A supporter of the Waimea dam at a protest.

A supporter of the Waimea dam at a protest. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Waimea Community Dam was first proposed in 2003.

The resource consents have been issued, and some fast work to revise wayward funding models have been released.

But one major hurdle remains before it reaches the finish tape, in the form of a pocket of Department of Conservation land.

A select committee hearing in Richmond on Friday considered submissions to a Bill that sought to free up nine hectares of Crown land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park.

The local members' bill is promoted by the Tasman District Council and sponsored by Nelson MP Nick Smith.

Supporters are urging the Bill to be passed, so work can start on the $100 million scheme.

Opponents questioned its lawfulness, and the precedent it might set.

Forest and Bird said the bill that would allow the transfer of Crown land overrides rules aimed at protecting conservation land.

Regional manager Debs Martin said the organisation was not opposed to the dam, but that the transfer of land represented disposal.

The group's lawyer Sally Gepp told the hearing it would open wider access to Conservation land.

"We are looking at a very sad state of affairs in New Zealand and a whittling away of New Zealand's protected conservation areas."

Fish and Game supported the Bill, but wanted it amended to make sure public access was protected.

A senior planner Peter Wilson said while they had concerns, the scheme was the "least worst option" for solving Tasman's water shortages.

"Of the many water storage schemes proposed in New Zealand, this one of the few that promotes environmental benefits, but like all irrigation schemes they require assistance from central and local government in order to proceed.

"That's the simple reality of water storage in the history of New Zealand."

Ratepayer Trish Palmer refuted claims by Dr Smith there had been adequate and multiple opportunities for the public to be informed on the project.

The council said there had been about 200 meetings on the dam since the idea was launched in 2003.

Mrs Palmer said she had been blindsided by what people said and did not say about it.

"As a ratepayer, regardless of my feelings about the dam, I'm kind of fed up with that. I'd really like to have the opportunity to sit down with one person and have that person answer my questions."

Former parliamentary commissioner for the environment Morgan Williams, head of a local water advisory group, said the council had been handed a difficult task.

"What it has highlighted is the difficulties small councils face, particularly unitary councils, with their dual roles. They struggle to manage large, complex infrastructure projects and the dialogue is dominated by the immediate cost to ratepayers."

Opponents from Golden Bay hoped for a more considered response to their concerns than that offered recently by Cabinet Minister Shane Jones, who described them as "lotus eaters".

He was critical of their vehement stance on the dam when the government had helped the community in the aftermath of the storm earlier this year which cut road access over the Takaka Hill.

Dr Smith earlier hoped to have a decision on the bill by Christmas.