Coronavirus: Work stops on site of Waimea dam project

Construction of the Nelson’s Waimea dam has come to a halt as the nation went into lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are suspending work,” said Waimea Water Ltd chief executive Mike Scott. “It’s clearly going to delay the project; we have no idea how long.”

Waimea Water Ltd is responsible for managing the construction of the multimillion-dollar dam in the Lee Valley. It is a council controlled organisation – a joint venture between Tasman District Council and Waimea Irrigators Ltd.

Scott said Waimea Water was seeking clarification from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on whether the dam build could continue as a “critical infrastructure project”.

More than 150 people a day at times were working on the Waimea dam site in the Lee Valley

“Until such time, we will shut down.”

It was apparent now “more than ever” that the dam was a critical piece of infrastructure for the Nelson-Tasman region, Scott said.

“Our primary industry needs water, needs confidence so they can invest in other industries.”

The region would need jobs and investment to recover from the economic downturn caused by the effects of the pandemic. Scott said the primary sector would be a key player in that recovery.

“Primary industry is going to need to create jobs and invest,” he said. “The dam plays a really important role in this.”

Although the construction of the planned 53m high rockfill dam would be delayed by the shutdown and a “constrained” international supply chain, the project would not be stopped.

Waimea Water Ltd chief executive Mike Scott says the dam will still be built, it will just be delayed

“The dam will be built,” Scott said. “It’s just going to take us a bit longer than we thought.”

Safety checks of the construction site would be undertaken during the shutdown and a lot of work would continue “in the background”.

An impression of how the completed dam is expected to look with the spillway on the right

“We look forward to resuming work [on site] as soon as the situation allows,” Scott said.

The controversial project suffered a setback in February when it was revealed the forecast build cost for the dam had blown out by an estimated $25m to $129.4m due to “unforeseen geological conditions”.

Tasman District ratepayers are on the hook for $23.5m of that expected cost increase unless other funders can be found.

Link to the story on Stuff (includes video)