August 6, 2008

Scheme’s Enemies Vow Fight

By VAN WEL, Alex

TrustPower's hydro scheme passes its first hurdle. ALEX VAN WEL reports.

Opponents of TrustPower's $280 million hydro electricity scheme in Marlborough say they will not give up their fight, despite resource consents being granted.

In a long-awaited decision, the Marlborough District Council yesterday confirmed the power company could proceed with the controversial project - the biggest infrastructure development contemplated in the region - subject to conditions.

However, there are already appeals to the Environment Court over the interim approval given last June, and opponents say they will now follow suit.

One furious resident who lives nearby, Alison Parr, said: "As far as we are concerned it is just a big, fat, giant experiment, and we are the laboratory rats."

The scheme proposes a 48km canal, built along the southern slope of the valley above the Wairau Valley township, housing five generators and providing up to 72MW of power.

TrustPower estimates that up to 60 per cent of the traditional river flow will be diverted into its proposed canal at times during the year, also alarming conservationists who believe fish and bird life will decline.

The consents for the project's construction took almost six months to produce and included a separate, long schedule of conditions. It was the work of three independent commissioners and came after the longest resource-consent hearing in New Zealand history - 18 months with 1500 submitters.

TrustPower chief executive Keith Tempest said it would "provide direct benefits to upper South Island communities and indirect benefits to the rest of New Zealand through the freeing up of electricity currently imported into that region for more efficient use elsewhere".

The company has spent more than $2m to this point but could still be blocked by the Environment Court or landowners who refuse to give it access.

Joan McLauchlan, who runs sheep and cattle on 520 hectares in the path of the planned canal, yesterday vowed to do whatever it took to stop TrustPower.

She and husband John believed the conditions were inadequate.

"They seem comprehensive, but there is always a but. The thought of anyone living under the threat of that huge amount of water above them . . . with a major alpine fault just a few hundred yards away . . . it would fill anyone with fear."

A raft of organisations made formal submissions against the scheme during the consent hearings, and an opinion poll earlier this year found most local people were opposed.

Most vocal is Wairau Valley Action, a body which claims to represent up to 80 residents living below the proposed canal route.

Spokeswoman Parr said she was extremely disappointed because of what she called the project's inherent dangers.

The group said the canal route crossed an earthquake fault line 11 times during its almost 50km stretch. In addition it said spillways built into it to allow for emergency releases of water could flood areas of land close to homes.

But the three commissioners disagreed that the risk posed was unreasonable. They said they accepted the scheme "can be designed to withstand catastrophic failure."

The conditions announced yesterday cover everything from pre- construction checks on hazardous substances to the affect (CORRECTION: effect) on river birds - both during construction and once the scheme became operational.

Three appeals are already before the Environment Court following the interim approval in June last year - from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Fish and Game, and Ormond Aquaculture - a company operating in the upper Wairau.

More appeals are now likely to flow. Wairau Valley Action said it was looking into mounting its own legal challenge.

DOC made formal submissions over the survival of the black fronted tern and the black billed gull. It had called for much tighter conditions than those in the interim decision.

Hydro lakes fall A6



* $280 million estimated cost

* 48km-long canal

* Five generators

* Providing 72MW of power

* Up to 60% of the Wairau River diverted

* 12 to 17 emergency spillways

* 11 crosses of alpine fault-line


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