Hawke’s Bay irrigation saga gets murkier

The inherent problems with one arm of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) promoting the mega Ruataniwha dam and irrigation scheme while another arm attempts to act like a regional council, came to the fore in a tangled council meeting last week.

I attended a presentation by newly established Transparent Hawke’s Bay at the start of the council meeting.  In the 10 minutes they were allowed, Pauline Elliott, Tom Belford and John Cheyne called on regional council to hit the ‘pause’ button on the Ruataniwha project for at least six months. This is to allow due diligence on behalf of the community, and an independent assessment of the environmental and financial assumptions HBRC is using to push the dam.

Transparent Hawke’s Bay’s call is sensible given the huge risks the Ruataniwha scheme represents to rivers, water quality and ratepayers. Cost estimates have ballooned well past $250 million, with the regional council proposing to borrow heavily to fund its $80 million for the scheme.

Ngati Kahungunu, Hawke’s Bay Fish and Game, and Friends of the Tukituki have made similar calls for a pause to HBRC’s headlong rush to lodge resource consent applications for the scheme.

With Council having spent more than $8 million on the scheme to date (with $3 million of this coming from the Ministry of Primary Industries) engineering and consultants doing project reports have been the scheme’s major beneficiaries.

Directors of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), the council-controlled organisation tasked with advancing the dam, also have their hands out. At last week’s council meeting they asked for a big increase in their director fees.

As  Bay Buzz’s Tom Belford reports HBRIC chair Dr Andy Pearce asked for a $44,125 increase in his fees to $65,625 per annum and raises of $22,500 each (to $37,500 each per annum) for fellow directors Jim Scotland and Sam Robinson, as well as fees for three expert ‘committee members’.  The fact that Council’s chief financial officer, whose electronic signature was on the council agenda paper requesting the increase, had neither read nor signed the paper, prompted questions from councillors and meant no decision was made.

Transparent Hawke’s Bay has recently asked the Auditor- General to review  the lack of information provided to ratepayers before HBRC signed off its long term plan last year, with its major funding commitments for the Ruataniwha scheme.

The Kaipara community is grappling council debts of around $50 million after decisions by its council breached the requirements of the Local Government Act.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council may be on a similar path. A thorough investigation by the Office of the Auditor-General would be timely.

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