It’s been revealed that a Hawke’s Bay Regional councillor could stand to make money if the Council approves a controversial and polluting dam that’s set to cost close to $1 billion.

The councillor, Deborah Hewitt, owns a property that falls within the proposed area to be supplied with water from the planned Ruataniwha Dam. The land value of those within this irrigation zone is expected to increase if construction of the dam goes ahead.

It’s understood Hewitt began the process of declaring the conflict of interest yesterday, a day after Greenpeace New Zealand and more than a dozen others requested an official inquiry into the issue following information obtained under the Official Information Act.

The OIA request had resulted in the release of a map that outlined the addition of an extra irrigation zone to the scheme area. Hewitt’s property sits inside this new area.

Greenpeace’s agriculture campaigner, Gen Toop, says it’s “plain wrong” that Hewitt hasn’t declared a conflict of interest until now.

“It’s uncanny timing that the council has only acknowledged this conflict of interest after people started making noise about it. It begs the question, if it wasn’t for public pressure, would it have been declared?”

Toop says any decisions that have been made from when the new map was created in November 2015, until now, must be reviewed in light of Hewitt’s admission.

“Councilor Hewitt has been part of critical decision-making about the future of Ruataniwha – decisions that could lead to her gaining financially,” she says.   

“Irrigation schemes like Ruataniwha come at the cost of our rivers and use our taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to get off the ground.  It’s just plain wrong that a Councillor, who could make private profit off the back of public money, was involved in any of that decision-making.”

Toop says Greenpeace is calling on the Ruataniwha process to be halted until such time as an external review about the conflict of interest has been completed.

“If this project is to have any shred of legitimacy, the issue needs to be addressed immediately,” she says.

In a column written for Hawke’s Bay Today, registered valuer Greg Morice said speculation about Ruataniwha has already caused a rise in value of properties that sit in its irrigation footprint.  

The proposed 25-storey high concrete dam will take water from the Makaroro River and use it to intensify dairying in the region.

Toop says the Ruataniwha Dam will be a major polluter of the waterways in the area if it goes ahead.

“Our rivers are already being severely polluted by industrial dairying, and this will only get worse with the addition of more irrigation schemes like Ruataniwha,” she says.

“Ecological farming is much better for our rivers, our land and our international reputation. It’s this that we should be backing, not some failed industrial agriculture model which is polluting our rivers and bankrupting our farmers.”