Doc may buy Contact land

The Department of Conservation plans to buy several parcels of Contact Energy land in the Upper Clutha if a funding application is successful.

A report to the Otago Conservation Board this week said the department had applied to the Nature Heritage Fund (NHF) to buy the properties, which supported significant river terrace and dryland vegetation and included threatened flora and fauna, historic features and river access values.

In a subsequent statement to the Otago Daily Times, Doc southern region communications adviser Andrea Crawford said because the funding application process was still under way and due to commercial sensitivity, the department could not provide specific details on the parcels of land or their values.

Contact's trading, development and geothermal resources project manager Neil Gillespie would not disclose any information on the properties either, but said they were not the properties by the Luggate Red Bridge where a community river park had been proposed.

Contact is selling its remaining property holdings in the Upper Clutha as a result of its decision not to proceed with any further hydro-electric development in the area.

Mr Gillespie said about 10 of the 21 Upper Clutha properties the power company owned had already sold and negotiations to sell the remaining 11 were under way with various parties.

In July 2012, information obtained by the ODT from a property sales database showed Contact had 147 individual properties in Otago, covering 13,912.25ha, and valued at $700,860,500.

Included were $432,450,000 for the Clyde Dam and $200,000,000 for the Lake Roxburgh village. The dams aside, the capital value of Contact's Otago properties was $68,410,500.

The property was almost entirely between Luggate and Beaumont, and a small amount in Dunedin.

Although figures from the database did not show what improvements had been made to the land, most of the values at the time of the 2012 article were considerably higher than the ''gross purchase prices'' listed.

A 1.8ha property in Luggate bought in 1982 for $30,246 had increased in value to $365,000, while the value of a 88.83ha property at Mt Pisa bought in 1989 for $871,875 had risen to $1,183,000.

The NHF is a contestable Ministerial fund that is administered by an independent committee, serviced by Doc and receives an annual allocation of funds from the Government.

Since it was established in 1990, it has protected more than 340,449ha of indigenous ecosystem through legal and physical protection such as direct purchase, covenants or fencing.