A 32 page Department of Conservation submission on the environmental impacts of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s planned irrigation dam, which was substituted for a two paragraph submission in unusual circumstances, will be made public after all – but not by the department.
The Hastings-Havelock North branch of Forest & Bird will present DOC’s original submission at the hearings of a Board of Inquiry convened to determine if the Ruataniwha irrigation dam should proceed.
The original submission was famously leaked to the media after DOC produced only a two-paragraph document in its final submission on the dam project, a couple of days after Conservation Minister Nick Smith met with DOC’s deputy director-general Doris Johnston.
Irrigation schemes, mainly for the dairy industry, are a key plank of the government’s economic strategy. The government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies to promote their development.
DOC’s submission was obtained by Forest & Bird via the Official Information Act, but only after an unusually long delay. OIA requests are meant to be met within 20 working days. Forest & Bird did not receive DOC’s original submission until the day evidence to the Board of Inquiry was due – last Tuesday, October 8, 36 working days after the request was made.
Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says that while it is good news that the Board of Inquiry will get to see what DOC’s scientists think about the scheme, it would be far better if DOC and its experts were going to present the submission themselves.
“Community groups like Forest & Bird don’t have the money to engage expert witnesses in the proceedings of lengthy boards of inquiry. Community groups also aren’t resourced to wade through the mountains of material and briefs of evidence typically produced by applicants, particularly within the ridiculously tight timeframes demanded by boards of inquiry,” says Kevin Hackwell.
“The current government created the legislation that gave rise to these boards of inquiry, which have to make their decision within nine months of being formed. But when it comes to these huge, nationally significant projects, a fast decision is not necessarily a good decision.
“It appears that when the senior managers of DOC talk about working more with the community, this is what they mean – community groups doing the job they should be doing, and would have been doing, up until recently. We are seeing this situation repeat itself across the country,” Kevin Hackwell says.
“With the key government departments keeping their heads down on the environmental impacts of Ruataniwha, this Board of Inquiry’s ability to do its job has been severely undermined.
“The public and the Ruataniwha Board of Inquiry have the right to an informed debate on the benefits – and costs – of large scale irrigation projects. But as things stand, that will be nearly impossible,” Kevin Hackwell says.
The Board of Inquiry’s hearings will be held in November.