A whole year after DOC’s decision on the Waitaha hydro scheme was due, DOC sent all submitters a letter outlining a proposal by Westpower, which is meant to address the potential adverse effects of the hydro scheme on recreation (kayaking and tramping) in the Waitaha valley. Submitters have time until 5pm on Wednesday 4 July to comment on the above proposal. Comments are to be sent in writing to Permissionshokitika@doc.govt.nz. FMC has already sent its response.
It appears that Westpower’s proposed mitigation is nothing more than a bribe, in the form of a $250,000 offer to establish a ‘Westpower Tai Poutini Kayaking Trust’.
Not only is it a bribe, but it is an insult. We cannot assign a price tag to the landscape and recreational values of the Morgan Gorge, since the place is priceless. And the offer of four no-take days a year to allow kayakers to paddle the gorge at full flow is simply pathetic, as well as impractical, since kayaking Morgan Gorge is an undertaking that depends on environmental conditions and cannot be scheduled in advance.
Furthermore, DOC’s act of offering brokerage between Westpower and Waitaha submitters is totally inappropriate. The Department of Conservation has a duty to take a decision on the proposed hydro scheme after applying a suit of statutory tests, including giving due consideration to public submissions.
Some background on the Waitaha River and Westpower’s proposed hydro scheme:
- The Waitaha is a pristine river in Westland, flowing into the Tasman between Harihari and Hokitika. It carves its way through 3 deep gorges of outstanding landscape value (Morgan Gorge, Waitaha Gorge and Windhover Gorge) and is one of the most coveted runs for elite kayakers. The Waitaha Valley is equally highly significant to trampers, with the historic Ivory Lake Hut located in its headwaters.
- The Waitaha River is also a significant habitat for a number of endangered species, including the whio / blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos).
- In July 2014, Westpower applied for a concession for a hydro scheme that would take water from the lower course of the river, the intake being above the Morgan Gorge.
- FMC submitted against Westpower’s application, like many other recreational and environmental groups.
- A decision on the Waitaha hydro scheme was due by mid 2017.
The Waitaha River and its lower Morgan Gorge have, beyond any doubt, landscape and recreational values of the highest level, and are worthy of National Park status. For the Department of Conservation and the Minister for the Environment, this should be an easy decision, as there is only one defensible course of action: they must reject Westpower’s application for a hydro scheme.