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EDS attacks Nick Smith’s Ruataniwha Dam process

Written By: - Date published: 8:39 am, October 11th, 2013 - 19 comments
Categories: Conservation, Environment, same old national, water - Tags: , ,

Ruataniwha damI posted recently about the Ruataniwha Dam resource consent process.  There are a number of issues surrounding this proposal including a Board of Inquiry without scientific expertise being selected (although I have since learned that one of the lawyers has some scientific expertise), a DOC submission inviting the Board to get more information and seek a peer review being dumped, submitters not being able to access the site, a model which NIWA is refusing to allow to be analysed, and a GNS Science contract being terminated because the scientists wanted a disclaimer inserted into their report.

To add to this list Gary Taylor, the Chairperson of the Environmental Defence Society, has publicly castigated the process.  In a scathing press release issued yesterday he heavily criticised the Board of Inquiry process for deciding on the Ruataniwha Dam consents.  The EDS is taking part in the hearing and is obviously finding the process difficult in the extreme.

In strong language he has outlined serious and compelling concerns about the fairness of the Environmental Protection Agency process for the hearings considering the applications for consents.  I will set out his comments in full as they are deeply troubling.

“[T]he Board of Inquiry process is so heavily stacked against the interests of submitters, it fails the fundamental requirements of fairness.  Because Government entities are not participating in the hearing, the burden of testing the applicant’s arguments has fallen on the voluntary sector. Engaging in the process is however extremely challenging.

The applicant has had years to prepare its case and has produced an overwhelming amount of highly technical evidence that submitters had 4 weeks to evaluate and submit on. Then the applicant prepared 46 briefs of evidence that were posted on the EPA’s website and submitters were given just 4 weeks to submit evidence in response.

These timelines have put enormous and unreasonable pressure on submitters.

It gets worse. There are also burdensome administrative requirements, with formal requests needing to be filed to do anything. The EPA administrators are also firing off directions changing set dates and imposing fresh obligations on a daily basis. It is a challenge just keeping up with them.

Moreover, it is clear from the evidence that a lot of this case hinges on freshwater science. But the Ministers for the Environment and Conservation, who appointed the Board, failed to include a freshwater specialist. And there’s no indication yet that the Board has even appointed science advisors.

Unprecedented in my experience is the fact that experts have been refused access to the site of the proposed dam and to key information relied upon by the applicant. This is deeply prejudicial. The Board has acknowledged this by allowing supplementary evidence to be filed later but that is suboptimal.

The process in this case is fundamentally flawed, the timeframes unrealistic, and the administration of it insensitive to constraints on submitters. Our confidence in getting a fair go has been heavily compromised.

It is a process that seems designed to facilitate the applicant getting consents and the plan change getting approved unchanged. It is a process that appears designed to implement the government’s growth agenda at all costs – and to ride roughshod over serious and legitimate public interest and environmental concerns.

I think the government needs to review the process for these called-in cases and create a fairer and more workable framework. This is so fast, so demanding and so unfair that it has to stop. It is just ridiculous.

We think the Board also needs to have another look at the timeframe it has available. Nine months for a case of this size and complexity is unrealistic. The Board should ask the Minister for more time now and establish a workable and fair process as soon as possible.

The EDS was formed in 1971 and has a sterling reputation for realistic principled advocacy for environmental protection.  It has always conducted itself with decorum and restraint.  That Gary Taylor felt obliged to use language as strong as this shows how compromised the Ruataniwha consent processes are.

19 comments on “EDS attacks Nick Smith’s Ruataniwha Dam process”

  1. vto 1

    This government is bloody useless at doing its job properly i.e. following due government process etc. They think they can just dump on everything and do what they want.

    The only one they have succeeded in not being challenged on is the coup at Environment Canterbury where they forced the Council out from the building by threat of jackboots and imposing their own commissars.

    Everything else they botch.

    At least they are getting a good kicking to the head from all over the whole country…. People and organisations held in high regard, such as the EDS, clearly have no respect for this government.

    Good on the EDS.

    • fambo 1.1

      They aren’t useless – they are actually very good – at stacking the deck in their favour.

      • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 1.1.1

        @ Fambo,

        Are they? I don’t recall a government having so many official bodies coming out and criticising the government of the day so frequently on so many fronts. (GCSB, retrospective legislation, RMA, legal financial assistance….)

        No, I don’t think they are ‘stacking the deck in their favour’ very well at all. They can’t even manage that competently.

        This government is useless, has no regard for Nzers’ interests and it has to go.

        +1000 VTO

  2. vto 2

    This is of course a result of that most poorly characteristic of the human bean…

    greed and lust for gold

    on this occasion that greed and lust is undaunting in its grasp of farmers. Shame they are not resistant to this poorly characteristic but not surprising as it afflicts most all humans – they are as weak as any.

  3. ianmac 3

    The whole scheme is deeply disturbing especially as it purports to be a template for future schemes. The people who care about our environment have what recourse if the Nick Smith Plunder machine rumbles on.
    (Note the friendly funny presentations that Nick Smith has recently put forward on TV re nasty birds and house sections. “See? I be a good guy and you folks have nothing to fear.”)

  4. Peter 4

    Hmm. I still think the targets are wrong here. Nick Smith isn’t running this process, it’s Amy Adams, as Minister for the Environment, and she should be the prime target. The EPA reports to Adams, she picked the board, and stacked the process. I’m not condoning what Nick Smith probably did by suppressing DOC evidence, but he isn’t in charge of this process, and nor does he probably have much time for Adams’ extreme right wing ideology.

    Smith has done some reasonable stuff in conservation recently with more to come, and he’s a welcome change from his predecessor (Kate Wilkinson).
    It is Adams after all who is promoting nationwide water quality standards that will turn most of our rivers into sewers through increased nitrate. Think the Ruataniwha plains situation rolled out across the country…

    • vto 4.1

      “It is Adams after all who is promoting nationwide water quality standards that will turn most of our rivers into sewers through increased nitrate. Think the Ruataniwha plains situation rolled out across the country…”

      Spending some big chunks of time in absolute remote wilderness I am finding more and more that upon return to rural areas the landscape is dreadful. It is an industrial landscape with its sole saving grace being that the foreign grasses are coloured green. In all other respects it may as well be concreted over.

      • Peter 4.1.1

        Yep, but some regional councils and NGOs are valiantly fighting on to upgrade water quality regulations to get improvements in freshwater quality, or just to hold the line. Adams’ proposed standards, currently being written by the Ministry for the Environment, will seal the deal and lock in pollution in our rivers for generations.

        • vto 4.1.1.1

          How could this government lock in such settings for generations? A future government could surely amend these.

          What she is doing in going about this is exhibiting the same behaviour as this entire government and their supporters. They recognise a sea-change in the electorate towards environmental sustainability and that the old colonial model of two centuries ago of simply eating the environment (because there is apparently so much of it..) is rapidly on the way out.

          This government, in this area and others, is making a last desperate grab for resources and assets before the gate comes thundering down in the very near future, through another government, reflecting the wishes of the wider public.

          It is a last gasp. A desperate grab, a lunge with fingers outstretched and eyes bulging, sweat at the temples.

          They might manage to grab a wee bit more for their greedy selves and supporters but they wont get much. Time’s up. Twelve months to go.

          • Peter 4.1.1.1.1

            Regional plan processes are slow to change, and governments are usually reluctant to override them with nationwide standards. So the damage done now, particularly, in Canterbury, will be hard to undo. There is also the question of how willing a new Labour government will be to direct challenge agricultural interests.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.2

        It is an industrial landscape with its sole saving grace being that the foreign grasses are coloured green. In all other respects it may as well be concreted over.

        Came to the same conclusion years ago.

    • mickysavage 4.2

      You are right that Adams is also heavily involved. Both Ministers made the call in decision. I have concentrated on Smith in my previous posts but I agree that Adams is just as complicit in what is happening.

      • Peter 4.2.1

        I’m particularly conscious of political tactics here. Smith has made some good environmental decisions – on getting extra funding for DOC, stopping the nutty Routeburn-Hollyford tunnel, plus a few other things in the pipeline, such as the monorail project and the Haast-Hollyford Road. If those decisions are made now and are made the wrong way, it will be pretty difficult to undo them, so my tactics would be to focus on the worst Minister right now – Adams, and encourage Smith to do the right thing, because he does from time to time.

  5. MrSmith 5

    You could liken this sham to cutting off legal aid and then asking the defendant if they want to defend themselves, out of there own pocket that is, oh and you only get 10 minutes to organize it, What say you! if no to bad, your guilty, go to jail, go directly to jail.

    Federated farmers are calling for more water storage mainly because of the increased likelihood of drought, no mention of doing anything about the root cause, so they swallow another spider to catch a fly, idiots!

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    As I said in the last post, the whole process has obviously been corrupted and a large number of people, especially elected officials, need to be going to jail.

  7. Ad 7

    EDS is preparing the public ground for judicial review proceedings. Bring it on Gary Taylor – hopefully it will take out Adams and Smith simultaneously in the 2014 reshuffle.

  8. JK 8

    ” Because Government entities are not participating in the hearing, the burden of testing the applicant’s arguments has fallen on the voluntary sector.” This is a comment from the EDS media release.

    However, even when government entities such as DoC or NIWA (whoever) do participate in environmental hearings, their opinions and evidence can be suspect because they’ve often done consultancy work for the applicants. So the burden on the objectors to provide scientific evidence is not uncommon. Its a lousy way for environmental matters to be decided – often biased towards the applicant.

    I do hope you’re right Ad, that EDS are preparing for a judicial review, and that it IS successful.

  9. millsy 9

    Ruataniwha dam needs to be in public ownership.

  10. GK 10

    On Saturday night I had a conversation with a very experienced person who has submitted to the EPA on the Ruataniwha scheme. His voice needs to be heard but he is withdrawing as an expert witness because of the difficulties highlighted by Gary Taylor.

    The dam is a done deal . Fonterra have already invested $200 million in an upgrade of its Pahiatua processing plant in anticipation of dairy expansion in Central Hawke’s Bay (http://agrihq.co.nz/article/hopes-dam-will-lead-to-more-dairying?p=7) and has been holding confidential discussions with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (formed by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council).

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