Contact not willing to give Upper Clutha land to Doc

Sir Alan Mark
Sir Alan Mark
Contact Energy has ruled out giving more than 100ha of land along the Clutha River to the Department of Conservation.

A group of 41 Otago citizens led by Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark sent an open letter to Contact's board on Friday asking it to consider ''gifting'' the land to Doc.

The government-funded Nature Heritage Fund is negotiating to buy the land on Doc's behalf in a bid to preserve rare and endangered plant life.

Contact manager corporate communications Shaun Jones told the Otago Daily Times in an email yesterday ''various bits of land'' were part of the negotiation but ''this land is not being gifted''.

Sir Alan described Contact's response as ''extremely disappointing''.

His open letter to Contact board chairman Grant King suggested by gifting the land ''or at least assisting the Government and the community to purchase these areas of land on favourable terms, [Contact] will earn widespread community respect''.

Doc Wanaka conservation services manager Chris Sydney said yesterday the department was interested in acquiring ''about eight different sites'' on various titles.

''Some of them are just narrow little strips ... some of them are big large chunks.''

Mr Sydney said Doc's primary interest was in protecting the botanical values of the pieces of land.

''All those sites have been inspected by specialists who have identified [rare and endangered] plants.''

Mr Sydney said negotiations with Contact were being carried out by the NHF and he was not party to them.

Although ruling out gifting land to Doc, Mr Jones said Contact had identified a 2.2ha block of land it ''may be willing to gift'' to the Upper Clutha community.

Mr Jones said ''this possible gift of land'' was located on either side of the Luggate end of the Red Bridge.

''If gifted, it will be up to the community to decide how to use it.''

River conservationist Lewis Verduyn-Cassels said yesterday the land being offered was part of where he envisaged a ''community river park''.

He described the Contact offer as ''great'' but believed for the park to proceed another 0.4ha of Contact land - where he is living - also needed to be gifted to the community.

Mr Verduyn-Cassels said he was ''under the corporate gun'' trying to ensure the land ended up in community ownership because tenders were due to close today.

Mr Verduyn-Cassels called for the tender process to be delayed and Sir Alan agreed.

''It seems quite unreasonable to us to insist on a deadline of 5pm.''

All the land in question was acquired by Contact Energy when it was planning more hydro-electric dams on the Clutha River. It withdrew its plans in 2012. The ODT obtained information at that time showing the company owned 147 properties totalling 13,912.25ha in Otago - most of which was along the Clutha.

Contact's trading, development and geothermal resources project manager Neil Gillespie said earlier this month the company had sold 10 of its 21 Upper Clutha properties and negotiations to sell the remaining 11 were under way with various parties.

He confirmed yesterday the negotiation with NHF involved more than 100ha of Contact land.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz