An investment company is demanding the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council hand over $80 million of ratepayer money for a controversial and polluting dam, prior to formal checks and balances being completed.
In a extraordinary Regional Council meeting at that kicks off at 10:30am today, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) is requesting access to the ratepayer money for the Ruataniwha Dam project, despite not having written confirmation from other investors or financiers that they will also fund the scheme.
The public will be excluded from the first part of the meeting and will only be allowed to enter council chambers from 1pm.
Critics say the dam, which will be used to expand dairy farming in the area through irrigation, will lead to increased river pollution and farmer bankruptcy.
From midday, outraged members of the Hawke’s Bay community plan to gather outside the Regional Council building in Napier to implore councillors not to allow HBRIC access to their money.
A van emblazoned with the words, “ACC dirty delivery – public money for dodgy dams” will arrive to drop off large bags of mock ‘taxpayer’ money.
After Ruataniwha failed to secure any private investors, government department ACC has been marred by accusations that it too is set to prop up the scheme using taxpayer money.
In May, Greenpeace NZ dumped six tonnes of dairy sewerage in sealed containers outside ACC’s Wellington offices and challenged it to deny these rumours. As yet, ACC has refused to confirm or deny the potential investment.
Greenpeace’s agriculture campaigner, Gen Toop, says the Ruataniwha dam has been “dogged by controversy since day one”.
As it stands, the dam has failed to secure $330 million needed to begin construction, and its overall costs have ballooned to almost $1 billion.
“We’ve seen huge public opposition, two private investors pulling out of the project, and both Greenpeace and Forest and Bird in an ongoing court battle with HBRIC and the Regional Council over resource consents and access to conservation land,” Toop says.
“It would be a terrible misuse of public money if today the Regional Council were to hand over $80 million for a scheme that’s polluting, unstable and doesn’t have the required funds to go ahead. If the whole thing goes belly up, the ratepayer will have wasted millions.”
Since the last elections, the Regional Council has been divided on the issue of the dam, but with a narrow 5-4 vote in its favour, it has been pushing ahead with plans.
Toop says irrigation from Ruataniwha would lead to “devastating” pollution of rivers in the Hawke’s Bay region.
“Millions of tons of pollution ends up in our rivers every year already. This is only set to get worse with the expansion of dairy farming through irrigation schemes like Ruataniwha. To think that everyday Kiwis could be used as a cash cow to pollute our own rivers is offensive,” she says.
“Ecological farming is much better for our waterways, our land and our international reputation. It’s this that our government and local councils should be backing, not some failed industrial agriculture model.”