Kevin Hague

Saving the Mokihinui River

by Kevin Hague

Well it’s Conservation Week and my inbox is full of email from people who saw the WhitewaterNZ film “A Tale of Two Rivers” on TVNZ 6 last night. It’s being repeated three times before the end of the week and is well worth a watch. Essentially it compares the disastrous Meridian Energy plan to build a high dam across the Mokihinui and flood 300Ha of pristine habitat for at least 20 threatened and critically endangered species, with the scheme from local company HDL that generates electricity by dropping water acidified by coal mine drainage from the Stockton Plateau and out to sea. Either scheme would generate enough electricity for the West Coast’s needs, but one comes with massive environmental (and recreational) cost, while the other has a net environmental benefit. More broadly the documentary argues for an energy generation plan that considers all the options and selects those most in the public interest, rather than leaving it all to the electricity companies themselves to make decisions about essential infrastructure. regular readers will know this is a hobbyhorse of mine, so it’s good to see that idea get a broader public airing.

On Sunday this week Prime TV will be screening the Mokihinui episode in Craig Potton’s ‘Rivers’ series at 7.30pm. I haven’t seen that yet but am really looking forward to it. These films are really important I think, because they give New Zealanders who, for the most part, will never go to the Mokihinui Gorge the opportunity to see what is at stake here. No wonder the Department of Conservation concludes “the public conservation land within the Mokihinui River has such high value that it is most unlikely to be suitable for exchange at all”.

This business of exchange is crucial. In order for the dam to proceed, Meridian must achieve both resource consent and the permission of the land owner. On the first of these Meridian has achieved a consent, but this is now being appealed to the Environment Court by a number of organisations including the Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird and Whitewater NZ, and the appeal is set down to be heard in the second quarter of next year. However, as to the landowner’s permission, Meridian has withdrawn its original application. There is no way that they could be granted permission to flood such high value conservation land so what they instead will need to try to do is “swap” other land for the area they wish to flood and convince the Minister that such a swap has a net positive conservation effect.

The reality is that nobody can think of any land with higher conservation value that is not already protected which could be swapped for the Mokihinui land. So I have been calling on the Minister to save everyone the time and considerable expense of the Environment Court process by establishing first whether there is any way that a land swap is possible. She has declined to rule out any land swap, saying she will wait and see what application she receives, but today I was asking her to speak with her colleague the Minister for Sate Owned Enterprises (like Meridian). If (our) company were to make its application for a land swap before the Environment Court hearing then there would be advantages for all concerned, including Meridian. Better yet, they could abandon the idea altogether!

So check out the Mokihinui films. This is a special place, that we love and treasure. It should not be destroyed for electricity generation, especially when a perfectly good alternative is just down the road. If you want to save the Mokihinui and our other last wild rivers, then you can help by collecting signatures for our petition or by encouraging others to send ecards to the Prime Minister.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kevin Hague on Tue, September 14th, 2010   

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