"There's none so blind..."
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 9:31AM
Bill Barclay

It is almost a given that Regional Councils - predominently dominated by farming interests, become deaf and blind when it comes to any arguments that may be raised against their grand development schemes. Such schemes inevitably require Government funding - some to a greater extent than others, and very often with strong Government support based on the traditional alignmnet between the National Party and farming interests. Just as inevitably, the environmental effects of these developments prove to be their undoing.

What we are seeing now in Hawkes Bay with the Ruataniwha Water Storage Project is the lastest case in point, but there are similarities with regard to the way in which the Government has manipulated advice from the Department of Conservation to prevent the emergence into daylight of evidence relative to the Horizon One case that is currently before the Supreme Court.

In the Ruataniwha case, the Minister responsible - Nick Smith, has prevented evidence that was to be presented to the EPA Board of Inquiry that points to the likelihood of run-off toxicity destroying wild life in the Tukituki river system should the dam proceed. At all times the officials and backers of the dam have claimed that the economic benefits should be paramount.  

The Horizon One case that encompasses new standards imposed by the Horizon RC to improve the state of the Manawatu River - deemed the worst in the country, by imposing run-off limits that farming interests find unacceptable. These interests have lobbied Government to intervene on their behalf. with the result that Government has simply refused to take part at the Supreme Court by vetoing participation by DoC in the Appeal process, and left to Fish and Game to mount the case against that of Federated Farmers and the Hort. Council.  

We have a similar situation evolving here with the Wilson's Bay fish farming proposal that is wending its way through the tender process. The whole hearings process appears to have circumvented with a simple and loaded enquiry that took place earlier in the year. Contrary views appeared to be given short shrift, and we now have a situation where the whole process is being "fast-tracked" in order to avoid hard questions regarding pollution and fish health amongst other issues being dealt with.

The WRC proposal - strongly supported by our own TCDC, appears to have adopted the "easy, easy" approach where only a small allocation of space will be made in the first instance, with additional space being allocated over time. Of course, it won't be until the full operation in in place before we will be able to appreciate the full effects of the almost certain sea-floor and other pollution in the Gulf.

Once again this proposal has strong Government support - statements have been made that bind us into this development with as little delay as possible. The only saving grace is that there appears to be a reluctance on the part of big experienced overseas players to participate. There has been almost no noise out of the WRC since this process commenced, indicating that they are finding it hard going.

My experience in the Northern Territory of Australia where a Dutch firm - the largest and most experienced ocean farming company in the World came in to take over a massive, and failing Barramundi farming enterprise on Bathurst Island, was instructive - they were unable to overcome the pollution and current problems, and pulled out after two years operation. Then again is the experience in South Australia where an extremely large king-fish operation (the same as proposed at Wilson's Bay) fell apart because the perceived market failed to materialize, amongst other factors. 

With all these examples there has been a plethora of Government and official intervention to get the enterprises off the ground before the full environmental effects in particular have been appropriately studied and lessons taken aboard. Governments become committed to economic development at all costs, and it is incumbent on all of us to temper this enthusiasm with some good old fashioned scepticism, and double checking.

It is to be hoped that the Opposition takes its chances on this Ruataniwha situation, and puts Nick Smith under massive pressure in order to allow the advice that he has received - evidently departmental, not individual as he has claimed, to be provided without further delay to the Board of Enquiry. At the same time, we must be alert to what is going on here and in Hamilton with regard to our own potential environmental disaster, regardless of industry, farming and other interests who are pushing for corners to be cut. 

Our Mayor has made this development a major plank of his non-existent election campaign. I look forward, if elected, to raising these issues within Council - something that has been absent in the past. 

 

 

 

Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
See website for complete article licensing information.