Stuff - Select committee recommends Waimea dam local bill be passed with amendments

Written by Cherie Sevignon

A select committee of Parliament has recommended that a local bill designed to enable construction of the proposed Waimea dam be passed with some amendments.

The governance and administration committee's report to Parliament on Tuesday says it has examined the Tasman District Council (Waimea Water Augmentation Scheme) Bill and recommends it be passed with amendments as shown in the report.

Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith, who has sponsored the bill, welcomed the report and the select committee's "unanimous support " for the bill's passage.

"The select committee was strongly influenced by the strength of submissions from the council, environmentalists and water scientists that the dam was necessary to address the significant minimum flow and water quality problems in summer," Smith said. "The compelling economic case put by horticulturalists like Boysenberries NZ and industries like Nelson Pine also satisfied the committee that the dam was in the best economic interests of the region."

If passed, the bill will enable the inundation of 9.67 hectares of conservation land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park, needed for the reservoir of the proposed dam. It will also enable the transfer to the council of 1.35ha of Crown riverbed in the Lee Valley, near Nelson, on which the dam will be built.

On September 19, the bill passed its first reading in Parliament. It was referred to the select committee, which received 137 written submissions and travelled to Richmond to hear orally from 26 submitters.

"The evidence that the Waimea catchment has a significant water problem over minimum flows and water quality, and that the dam was the best solution, was strong," the committee report says.

It also says the committee heard "significant criticism" that the council had not adequately consulted with the community over the scheme. However, that was disputed by the council, which referenced "over 200 public meetings and 17 years of discussion about the problem and opting to address it".

"We are satisfied that there has been widespread community debate on the project but acknowledge it does not have everyone's support," the report says.

The committee says it received "significant submissions" from Fish & Game, Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand and the Walking Access Commission "seeking improved access provisions".

"In response to these submissions, we have recommended a change of wording to the easement provisions in the bill over the areas of conservation and to reverse the presumption in favour of public access, except in the interests of public safety," it says.

The committee extended the time to begin construction of the dam without requiring further law change from 2020 to 2025.

Smith said the protections for iwi, with a first right of refusal over the land in the event the dam was decommissioned, had been strengthened to ensure local Treaty settlements were honoured.

"The timetable for passage by Christmas is tight with the bill requiring a second reading, a clause-by-clause debate and a third reading," Smith said. "My objective remains to get the bill passed by Christmas to enable dam construction work to start in the New Year."