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Meridian and Historic Places Trust cozy up

‘Ensuring the Best Outcome’: How Meridian, New Zealand’s Energy Juggernaut, Makes its own Rules.

In its fact sheet on the proposed hydro dam for North Westland’s Mokihinui River, we are promised that ‘Meridian would work with the Historic Places Trust to ensure the best outcome for the Mokihinui sites.’ What teachers of grammar will recognise here as the future conditional tense—what Meridian Energy would do—profoundly betrays the worldview of a juggernaut increasingly interfering with the autonomy and function of other institutions.

In Otago, Meridian has proposed the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere in a landscape of high natural beauty and heritage significance, the Lammermoor-Rock-and-Pillar upland, a snow-tussock grassland bisected by the Old Dunstan Road. As with the Mokihinui hydro scheme, one might suppose that the pre-existence of features other than identified energy potential—in this case, New Zealand’s last, significantly intact nineteenth-century road in an ‘Outstanding Landscape’—would automatically invalidate Project Hayes, insofar as the Resource Management and Historic Places Acts expressly protect such features.

Yet the lie barely concealed in Meridian’s consistent use of the future conditional tense is here laid bare. Though the Otago Goldfield Heritage Trust, leading archaeologist Dr Jill Hamel and others have identified the heritage significance of the Old Dunstan Road and its environs, the HPT recently withdrew its S274 Environment Court appeal on Project Hayes, declaring to the Otago Daily Times that it had reached an agreement with Meridian on mitigation. The HPT would appear to have become the latest, quietly reluctant accomplice to Meridian’s plans.

Project Hayes will require the Old Dunstan Road to be widened to twelve metres ( the width of a three-lane highway ) for the 176 turbines to be transported to the site. In places, this reconstruction will result in cuts fifteen metres deep, defacing the appearance of the road beyond recognition. Moreover, it will introduce radically new elements to a landscape of high natural beauty, and completely destroy the heritage experience and settingof the Old Dunstan Road Given the uniqueness of this historical feature, it is plain that no off-site mitigation can offset the loss to national heritage that Project Hayes entails.

The NZHPT’s withdrawal of its appeal was made at a national level without consultation with Central Otago branch members. Founding Branch Chairman, Graye Shattky, considers it likely that the Branch was deliberately excluded from discussion and decision-making because of members’ strong opposition to Meridian’s scheme.

Mr Shattky acknowledged that the Trust’s refusal to allow branches any activist role in defence of significant heritage such as the Old Dunstan Road, threatened by Project Hayes and a proposal for inappropriate development at Poolburn, led to the majority of his Branch Committee not standing for re-election at the recent AGM.

“I don’t understand why the Trust wouldn’t wish to be seen publicly defending a significant heritage asset such as the Old Dunstan Road, particularly as the Trust is seeking urgent registration of the Road under the Historic Places Act. By not consulting with local members, negotiating behind closed doors and not revealing the results of the agreement reached with Meridian Energy, the Historic Places Trust is acting arrogantly and leaves itself open to accusations of ‘selling out our heritage’.

If Project Hayes is granted consent, Meridian would doubtless ‘work with the Historic Places Trust to ensure the best outcome’. Yet consent by definition cannot be ‘the best outcome’ for the Old Dunstan Road, given the estimated 1.82 million cubic metres of cut soil, 150 kilometres of new roading, and 176 turbines, and related infrastructure which are intrinsic to it. If Project Hayes proceeds, the Old Dunstan Road will be inevitably destroyed.

Meridian’s use of the future conditional tense is meaningless, though it allows the corporation to keep up appearances when retailing would-be ‘clean green’ energy to consumers remote from the carnage.

ENDS

Visit www.savecentral.org to learn about threats to this unspoiled Central Otago landscape, and Save Central's plans to oppose them in the Environment Court (appeal begins 19 May)

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