The Waimea dam project caused a division on Wednesday evening at a meet-the-candidates gathering for Tasman district mayoral and Richmond Ward hopefuls.
More than 100 people filled Richmond Town Hall to listen to the four mayoral candidates – Maxwell Clark, Tim King, Brent Maru and Dean McNamara – along with six of the nine people running for four vacancies in the Richmond Ward – Mark Greening, Stan Holland, Kit Maling, Trevor Tuffnell, Gary Watson and Dana Wensley. Clark is running as a ward candidate as well as for the mayoralty. Ward candidates Maurie White and Peter Lynch did not attend although comments from Lynch were read by MC Victoria Guild.
Each candidate had two minutes to speak on the multimillion-dollar dam project now under construction in the Lee Valley.
Maling, an incumbent Richmond Ward councillor, rounded on Clark over a claim the mayoral candidate made about bedrock at the dam site.
Clark told the crowd two drilling companies had worked for six weeks each at the dam site.
“They have been unable to find any bedrock, solid rock, to build the dam structure to,” Clark said. “All they’ve found is fractured, rotten greywacke rock and granite sand.”
Clark has repeatedly made claims about a lack of bedrock in the past few months including at a candidates’ meeting at Māpua in August and in the public forum of council meetings in June and August.
However, Maling said he had asked Waimea Water Ltd chief executive Mike Scott about the matter and been told that no drilling crew had been looking for rock.
Waimea Water is the council controlled organisation responsible for the construction, operation and maintenance of the dam.
Outside of the meeting, Scott said the overburden had been cleared and “we’re on bedrock”.
Recent photographs, which he supplied, showed rock at the site.
“You can see how shiny and hard it is,” Scott said. “This is rock and we’ve got to get a rock breaker up here to cut down to get down to the finished level for the right-hand plinth.”
The geology at the site was “what we expected and in some areas, it’s better than expected,” Scott said. “There have been no bores since 2017 and we have not sent drilling crews to the site.”
In the meeting, King said the dam had a long history and for the first 12 years, it was a “positive conversation”.
“However, when the conversation turned to cost and who pays, that positivity changed,” King said. “It’s been one of the most challenging periods I’ve been through on the council and it is very disappointing that we’ve ended up with such a diverse split in the community.”
With the governance in place and the contractors engaged, the dam would be built successfully and the water it provided “will benefit this region for many generations to come”, King said.
Maru said in terms of the process “it’s not flash and I am a little bit worried about what else I’ll find out about when I get there and I’m worried that I’ll find things out that I can’t share”.
He would dedicate “100 per cent of my time” to making sure the project came in on budget and on time.
McNamara said information had been released about “secret contracts” locking in ratepayers to the dam build.
“These are only some of the contracts and clauses that I found were not in the ratepayers’ best interests,” McNamara said. “Many of these remain hidden from the public.”
Wensley said she was known as the U-turn councillor “but let me tell you, I voted strategically at each stage to get the very best deal for my ratepayers”.
“Sometimes, yes, I voted for the dam, sometimes I voted against it depending on the question in front of me,” Wensley said. “It was, after all, a negotiation.”
Watson said he would like to see a complete review of the dam. He feared the costs were going to “rise dramatically”.
Tuffnell said of 31 council projects over the past two years, 29 of had been on time.
“This council is actually quite a capable organisation,” he said.
Holland said Waimea Water was in control of building, operating and maintaining the dam but the council was the majority stakeholder “and is in the position through good governance to enforce accountability”.
“We need to ensure there is proper project management otherwise we could end up with a Bateup Rd for a dam with delay after delay and a huge list of defects,” Holland said.
Greening said he concurred with what McNamara said. “In fact, I’m endorsing Dean for mayor.”
The dam proposal was fundamentally flawed on financial and environmental bases, Greening said.