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Help needed to fund $170 million Rotorua lakes

MEDIA RELEASE

Government help needed to fund $170 million Rotorua lakes costs

For immediate release: Tuesday 21 June 2005

A high-level call will go out for Government assistance to help pay for the “absolutely horrendous” cost of improving water quality in the Rotorua lakes.

Updated estimates now put the cost of the work at about $170 million over a 20-year period. And neither the local community, nor the regional community, can afford to pay that much, says Rotorua mayor Kevin Winters, chairman of the Rotorua Lakes Strategy joint committee.

“There is a very real risk that funding the remediation will be beyond our financial capability. It would be a huge burden, and unfair, especially when we remember that significant areas of the Bay of Plenty are among the most deprived in the country.”

Because of this, the strategy partners, Rotorua District Council, Environment Bay of Plenty and Te Arawa Maori Trust Board, will urgently seek “an indication of the level of commitment” they can expect from central Government, Mr Winters says.

Strategic partner representatives will raise their concerns with the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, when she visits Rotorua on July 21.

In late 2003, the Minister for the Environment committed up to $36.7 million to a joint fund for preserving Lake Taupo. “We realise the Government did not want to set a precedent by doing this, but we think we have an extremely good case to put to them. The Rotorua lakes are iconic and are clearly special to the whole nation. They are appreciated by and belong to all New Zealanders, not just those who live near them.”

A year ago, the Government pledged $7.2 million towards short-term measures aimed at rapidly improving water quality in Lake Rotoiti, including sewerage reticulation and the Ohau Channel diversion.

”While we appreciate this assistance, it was always considered an initial contribution,” Mr Winters says.

A report to last Friday’s meeting of the Rotorua Lakes Strategy committee updated the cost estimates for the wide-ranging Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Action Programme. Supported by scientific research, the programme involves the development of Action Plans to improve water quality to an acceptable standard in key Rotorua lakes.

It includes a major programme of sewerage reticulation, which is going to cost Rotorua District Council more than $90 million over the next 10 years. Environment Bay of Plenty’s work is likely to total at least $80 million. This includes wetland construction, the use of minerals to improve water quality, the diversion wall in Lake Rotoiti, and other diversion options.

The report, by consultants McKinlay Douglas Limited, points out that past governments encouraged agricultural development around Rotorua, a major cause of today’s water quality problems. It states that it is unfair, and contrary to general legal principles, to impose “retroactive liability on a sector for the largely unforeseen consequences of an activity, which was both lawful and encouraged by the governments of the day”.

“Effectively, this leaves the choice of payment for remediation as lying between taxpayers and ratepayers, at either or both of the regional and district levels. The argument that the region should bear a greater part of the cost because of the wealth it holds is demonstrably flawed as, on analysis, it collapses to an argument that regional rates should be increased to meet the cost.”

ENDS

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