Contact land sale nearly complete

Neil Gillespie.
Neil Gillespie.
The disposal of Contact Energy's land holdings in the Upper Clutha is ''largely complete'', according to to the company's trading, development and geothermal resources project manager Neil Gillespie.

Contact Energy inherited 21 properties along the Clutha River upstream of Lake Dunstan from the former Electricity Corporation of New Zealand in the late 1990s.

The properties were acquired under the Public Works Act and by other means as part of plans to build new hydro-electric dams.

However, in May 2012 Contact Energy announced it had withdrawn from its plans, and it then began disposing of the land.

Mr Gillespie told the Otago Daily Times last week that process was now finished, apart from negotiations that were continuing over a couple of small pieces of land near the Red Bridge, at Luggate.

More than 100ha of the Contact Energy land was sought by the government-funded Nature Heritage Fund on behalf of the Department of Conservation and Mr Gillespie confirmed sale and purchase agreements had been concluded.

The land is understood to be be considered valuable by Doc partly because of its rare and endangered plant life.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith is expected to announce details of Doc's acquisitions in the next week.

A group of 41 Otago citizens led by Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark had called on Contact to consider ''gifting'' the land to Doc.

Some of the land disposed of by Contact is likely to feature in plans for a new cycle track linking Wanaka and Cromwell.

Tracks have already been established along the Clutha from Wanaka to a point downstream of Luggate and from Cromwell to above Lowburn.

The remaining 40km link along the river would be likely to pass through some of the former Contact land.

Mr Gillespie said the new owners were aware of the cycle track idea but purchase agreements did not contain any commitment to a track.

He believed, however, several of the new land owners would welcome a track.

Upper Clutha Tracks Trust chairman Alan Gillespie said yesterday it was hoped a feasibility study on the Luggate to Lowburn track would be done by early summer.

Some preliminary investigations had been carried out by trust members and surveying and engineering firm, BTW South Ltd, of Cromwell, had been appointed to carry out a feasibility study.

The trust expected the study would be finished by ''early summer''.

''That will first of all tell us whether access is available right through there and secondly, if it is possible to form a track.''

The trust also wanted to know how much a track might cost and more about how to construct a track in the vicinity of historic gold mining areas.

Mr Gillespie said the dream had always been to construct a track that ran the entire length of the Clutha.

An application for funding through the Government's ''Great Rides'' initiative was rejected by the Government in 2011.

Building the Luggate to Lowburn section, along with the newly proposed Cromwell Gorge track, would provide a complete trail from Wanaka to Lawrence.

''It's really about linking trails together,'' Mr Gillespie said, ''and besides it would be a really nice day-ride down to Cromwell.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz