The controversial Waimea dam project was a hot topic of the 2016 Tasman District Council elections and it seems little has changed in 2019.
A query on the $104.4 million dam, now under construction in the Lee Valley, was the first of seven questions from the community at a gathering of the four mayoral and 10 Moutere-Waimea Ward candidates in Mapua on Monday evening. The candidates were asked about their commitment to seeing the project completed and keeping ratepayers informed of its progress and financial outcome.
Several candidates pointed out the decision to build the dam and been made and outlined how they would deal with that legacy.
Mayoral candidate Tim King, a long-time deputy mayor and supporter of the project, said it wouldn’t come as any great surprise that he was 100 per cent committed to ensuring the dam was completed “hopefully, on time and on budget”.
“Currently, that responsibility is not directly with the Tasman District Council, it’s with the joint-venture company [Waimea Water Ltd] between the council and Waimea Irrigators.”
The public could hear regular reports presented to the council from Waimea Water to keep informed of the project’s progress, King said.
Fellow mayoral aspirant Brent Maru said he was committed to transparency.
Those elected would have to take responsibility for keeping ratepayers informed of the project’s progress.
“That is the legacy of the decision that has been made,” Maru said. “It goes beyond the dam [to] transparency across everything.”
Returning mayoral candidate Maxwell Clark said the legacy would become a difficult road and financially crippling.
“As mayor, I will review all the commercial documents on this dam … and I will meet with the Government ministers,” Clark said.
The fourth mayoral candidate, Dean McNamara, who is a first-term Moutere-Waimea Ward councillor and is also standing for re-election to the ward, said he initially voted for the dam when “it was essentially a user pays-funded model”.
“When it started to stray away from that and when I had some engineering questions that weren’t being answered, I started to vote against it,” McNamara said.
Decisions made in the latter stages “left me gobsmacked and we’re now contractually locked in”.
“It is what it is and we’ve been set up so I hope it comes in on budget,” McNamara said.
Ward councillor candidate Christeen Mackenzie said it was Waimea Water’s role to ensure the dam came in on time, budget and scope.
“The role of the council is to monitor and govern the performance of Waimea Water Ltd,” Mackenzie said. “I’ve spent the past decade leading, governing and overseeing significant projects.’
First-term ward councillor Anne Turley, who is running for re-election, said she was never against water augmentation but did vote against the dam.
She outlined a range of concerns including a “flawed” funding model, cost overruns above $3m falling on ratepayers, the geological and seismic risks and that there would be no pipes to supply water directly to points of use.
“However, there is no way that we can stop the dam at the moment, the contracts have been signed,” Turley said.
Candidate Julie Nevin said she understood there was no longer a choice over the dam.
“We’re bound into this and even if we weren’t, I would hesitate to review what was a huge decision in the last term of council,” Nevin said.
She was interested in making the dam a community asset, suggesting hydro power as an example. It seemed sensible to have community-based generation for energy security, she said..
Richard Johns suggested it wasn’t too late for the dam project.
“If I get into council, I would be pushing for a judicial review,” Johns said. “A legal opinion and a judicial review because I think a lot of the decisions … were not legal.”
Julian Eggers said he hadn’t looked into the matter “as such” but water was required for horticulture and agriculture. More might also be needed as the climate warmed.
Elisabeth Siegmund said the dam was a typical example of socialising the costs and capitalising the profits.
Pockets of people had fought hard against it.
“The one thing we could never get was transparency or information or anything that would actually overturn this ludicrous position that will cost us a lot of money and anybody who doesn’t believe that we’re in great financial danger is very, very naive,” Siegmund said.
Don Everitt said 12-18 months ago, he would have been against the project but after changes to the funding model and its inevitability along with the fire and drought over summer, “I came around to the idea that, yes, probably the dam was a good idea but, man, now we have to make sure that it’s managed well”.
Jennifer Beatson said the ship had sailed on the dam decision.
“What I can say is that if I was in council, my expectations would be very clear about it coming in time and on budget,” Beatson said.
Hayden Stevenson said just about everyone he’d spoken to “of worth” about the dam had said it would not come in on budget.
“That’s why I’m running,” Stevenson said. “We’re going to be over budget. The question is how much.”