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Govt Must Come Clean on Waitaki Water Plans

Greens urge Govt to come clean on Waitaki water plans

The Government needs to come clean on what it is planning for the Waitaki River and particularly Project Aqua, Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs announced today that the Government is consulting interested parties on a possible new process for deciding resource consent applications for Waitaki water. "Everyone knows this is about Project Aqua," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"The most likely outcome is the Minister using her power to 'call in' the project, under the Resource Management Act (RMA). This means the Minister becomes the consent authority - rather than the local or district councils. This raises hard questions about the Government's priorities," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"The fact that Project Aqua is so vast, has so many potential impacts, and requires so many consents ought to be a reason for questioning the wisdom of the project altogether, but it is not necessarily a reason to 'call in' the project.

"If the Minister is considering call-in, she needs to explain why she is prepared to call in Project Aqua, but not the several recent applications for new thermal power stations. The Minister rejected calls from the Greens to exercise her call-in powers on these stations, despite their Greenhouse emissions being a matter of national and international rather than solely local policy.

"While the Waitaki braided river system is a unique national asset, there is yet to be any suggestion that local authorities are not competent to assess Project Aqua.

"The Government has already given Meridian Energy 'requiring authority' status, which enables it to publicly acquire land and override district plans. The Government now appears to be looking at further means of fast-tracking Project Aqua. The Minister can and should encourage local authorities to work together," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"The Government's announcement today is also worryingly vague. It could even be seen as hinting at special legislation to push Project Aqua through, which would put the Government up there with Bill Birch in terms of fast-tracking energy projects. This must be ruled out immediately.

"Everybody wants to see a process for water allocation which is better than the first-come, first-served process used at present. The bottom line for water allocation must be the survival of the ecosystems in the Waitaki River, and the available drinkable water supplies, not fast-tracking huge energy projects," Ms Fitzsimons said.

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