By ROBYN BRISTOW
The Hurunui District Council has decided to spend nearly $500,000 buying 1190 shares in the proposed Hurunui Water Project irrigation scheme after wavering for several months over whether to invest.
The ability of the council to secure water from the scheme to top up its own supplies during low summer flows was the factor which appeared to sway councillors uncertain about backing the investment.
The decision is subject to public consultation and reaching an agreement on purchase details.
The management team and farmer-shareholders behind the scheme centred on the Hawarden and Waikari communities say the council’s support has renewed confidence in the future of the project.
Project chief executive Chris Pile says its been a long journey for farmer-shareholders committed to creating a stronger and more resilient Hurunui district through sustainable water use and agricultural development.
“The combination of strong shareholder support, as well as the support we are receiving from Hurunui District Council, will enable us to focus our efforts on delivering this irrigation scheme and its associated benefits to the Hurunui.”
He says the potential funding boost will contribute to the remaining work required for the scheme to progress through the feasibility phase to construction.
Cr Julia McLean was concerned that district residents did not know the nuts and bolts of the scheme, which they needed to understand to see why the council had backed the investment.
She said, having heard from Mr Pile, she had learnt a lot about the project which is “so different from what is out there in the community”.
Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie reiterated the social and economic benefits to the district through investment in the largest sector in the district – agriculture. “The purchase of the shares is about economic development in the district. That is the major driver. It’s an investment in the largest economy in the district and the biggest game changer for it is water,” he says.
He said while the shares were “dry” shares, which would not pay a dividend or generate cashflow, the scheme would have a long-term social and economic benefit to the district.
“We are recovering from a three-year drought which underlined the importance of reliable water supplies to the district’s economy. This decision signals to the public that the council supports the continued economic growth of the communities it serves.”
In addition to the economic benefits the scheme can bring to the district, the rationale for progressing the purchase of shares includes the option for the council to buy water from the scheme to supplement its own water supplies in times of high-demand.
Amuri-Hurunui Ward Councillor Dick Davison, who chaired the decision discussion, says now that a preliminary decision has been made, the community can have its say on whether or not they believe the purchase should progress.
“As this is a complex issue that is important to many in our communities, it is important that members of the public are enabled to have their voices heard.”
He says the construction phase of the scheme will provide employment and change the options for land use for a reasonably significant number of people constrained by the lack of moisture.
Cr Fiona Harris was concerned over the council’s backing of the project, saying the only benefit was to its water schemes. She wondered if the council might be asked to stump up with more money if the scheme went ahead.
“The shares are not going to make money and if the scheme does not go ahead we will lose our money.
“It is an investment but people do not see a direct benefit to themselves.”
Mr Pile says the Hurunui Water Project is confident it will deliver results beyond the local farming community.
“It’s about future-proofing and protecting the region against droughts that impact harshly, not only on agricultural productivity but the stability and sustainability of our communities.
“From those very early discussions some 20 years ago, what has evolved is a scheme that will result in significant and much needed regional socio-economic benefits at the same time as looking after the environment we operate in.”
The focus for the company is to refine the project design, preparing for construction capital raising and progressing resource consents.
This includes working alongside early contractor involvement partner, Rooney Group, on an on-plains storage solution, investigating and firming up locations and dimensions of the on-plains ponds, upstream canals and intake infrastructure.