FMC has resolved to oppose Westpower’s proposed hydro-electric development on the West Coast’s Waitaha river. While recognising that the proposal has been developed with the best of intent, FMC believes it to be inconsistent with the recreational values of the river and the protection of the wider area under the Conservation Act.
The proposal involves the diversion of water from a section of the river including the internationally recognised extreme kayaking challenge of the Morgan Gorge. It is accepted the diversion will in effect permanently remove this opportunity. FMC stands behind Whitewater NZ and its staunch advocacy on behalf of kayakers, they are a recreational group that have lost too much already. FMC calls on the Department of Conservation to recognise their duty to foster this form of recreation for future generations.
The proposal, including the diversion of water and the permanent creation of a weir, tunnel, powerhouse, road and other facilities, is also inconsistent with the purposes for which the Waitaha Forest Conservation Area and surrounding forests are held under the Conservation Act. These forests are Stewardship areas, or as FMC calls them “Forgotten Lands”. These virgin forests are held in a “statutory holding pen” guaranteed to protect their “natural and historic resources” until the time when their values are properly assessed. FMC believes if this assessment was genuinely undertaken the Waitaha Forest would be deemed worthy of National Park, or at least Conservation Park status. History is littered with failed proposals, such as the Mokihinui dam and Fiordland monorail, which have attempted to side-step this protective status. FMC calls on the Department of Conservation to undertake this assessment prior to the consideration of this concession.
The proposal is fundamentally about electricity generation, and finally FMC observes that the Department of the Conservation, under s17(U)4 of the Conservation Act, is unable to grant concessions for activities that do not need to be undertaken or can be undertaken in other locations. Evidence suggests this activity is unnecessary in the context of electricity supply both locally and nationally and could also be undertaken outside of Conservation Areas. FMC calls on the Department of Conservation to decline the concession application on this basis.
FMC will be asking the Department of Conservation to give precedence to these arguments, decline the concession application and take responsibility for protecting its conservation mandate through any litigation processes. It would be unacceptable to transfer this burden to the community.
Photo: Zak Shaw – Morgan Gorge on the Waitaha River