Malone: no dam option

The following editorial ran in the Nelson Mail in 2001.

Malone: no dam option

5 May 2001

As is characteristic of his approach to politics, former Nelson mayor Peter Malone never had any doubt about the merits of the Maitai dam.

While only part of the credit for getting the dam built should go to Mr Malone, history suggests his role in steering the project to completion, while leading a council divided over the project, was the critical one.

The dam was built, Mr Malone says, against a backdrop of increasing demand for water from industry, particularly the growing fishing industry, and “considerable rationing” imposed on the city every summer.

The city relied on taking water from the Maitai and Roding Rivers, but the suggestion of a dam to provide a large secure supply had been around for many years.

While it was under his mayoralty that the dam was finally realised – and when most of the battles over it were fought – Mr Malone is quick to point to the part played by others.

In particular, he singles out his predecessor, Roy McLennan, whose council determined that damming the Maitai was needed to solve the increasing water shortages facing Nelson. And when Mr Malone’s council inherited that decision, he chose Cr Ian Gourdie as works chairman, specifically to get the dam built.

“Ian did a marvellous job,” Mr Malone says today. He was “a top local body politician”, a no-nonsense sort “with much courage to say what he believed was necessary”.

Together with their close ally, the similarly hard-nosed and outspoken Cr Seddon Marshall, Mr Malone and Cr Gourdie proved a formidable triumvirate in working the dam through a minefield of formal hearings often acrimonious debate both within and outside the council.

Mr Malone was never in doubt what the public at large wanted.

“The public really wanted the decision made. They wanted water.”

And if his council hadn’t succeeded with its goal, he has no doubt about what Nelson would be like now: “We wouldn’t have any industry. The most important push as far as I was concerned was to ensure we had water for growth in industry.”

Today, the former (but still outspoken) mayor only expresses a couple of regrets about the Maitai dam. The first was that the delays caused by hearings, appeals and so on meant the project was launched just as interest rates soared to around 16 percent, so the council missed out on much cheaper finance and the ratepayers paid much more in financing costs as a result.

The second was that in his final years as mayor the council almost, but not quite, made the decision to push ahead with a dam on the Roding River system – providing even more security of water supply not just for Nelson but the wider Richmond area too, and hence some relief for the Waimea Plains aquifer system during droughts.

If he had remained in office, “that would be there now,” he says.