28 Aug 2019

Hydro-electric power scheme for West Coast rejected

6:55 pm on 28 August 2019

Plans to build a hydro-electric power scheme on a West Coast river have been declined.

The Waitaha River, at Kiwi Flat. A hydro scheme has been proposed for the river between the lower end of Kiwi Flat and Macgregor Creek.

The Waitaha River, at Kiwi Flat. Photo: Supplied / Copyright: Neil Silverwood

Westpower Limited applied for concessions to build and operate the scheme on the Waitaha River between Hokitika and Franz Josef.

The final decision rested with Environment Minister David Parker, who declined the application.

Accepting the scheme would have been inconsistent with the conservation of the wilderness area, which was largely unmodified by people and in near pristine condition, he said.

"The area is valued for its natural beauty and wilderness qualities for recreation. The proposal would have significantly undermined the area's intrinsic values which people experience when they tramp and kayak there," he said.

When asked, Mr Parker said he was confident he made the correct decision after reviewing public submissions and expert advice.

"It would have been a not insignificant contribution to West Coast power, but it wouldn't have serviced the whole of Westpower's costs and they're not short of power on the West Coast."

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith disagreed, he said West Coast residents could be in deep trouble if disaster strikes as the region was not self sufficient for power.

"It's our greatest risk when the Alpine Fault shifts, which it will do one day. We are completely isolated and without sufficient power to run the coast, we're in deep trouble," Mr Smith said.

"This was a scheme that ticked all the boxes for regional development, environmentally conscious. It ticked the boxes for the move toward self-sufficiency."

Forest and Bird spokesperson Jen Miller said the decision would help to protect one of the country's most outstanding and scenic rivers for future generations.

"Turning down the scheme is an obviously good decision. More than 25 native bird species, including kea, kākā and kārearea, plus long-tailed bats, and forest and green geckos make the Waitaha their home," Ms Miller said.

"This is a win for conservation, a win for kayakers, and a win for future generations of New Zealanders."

West Coast-Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor said he had hoped for a different result.

"I am disappointed, I've always thought the run of the river scheme's possible, but clearly the evidence has to be weighed up before the minister for the environment," he said.

"This is not going to finish the West Coast. It's one of a number of projects, we've just got to carry on and develop opportunities."

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