Clutha communities prepare to stop dams

Clutha River communities in Central and South Otago have reacted strongly to suggestions Contact Energy might dust off previously shelved plans to build more dams on the river.

Communities contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday were gearing up to oppose hydro-electricity dams proposed for Luggate, Queensberry and Beaumont.

Contact has emphasised it was only investigating options.

The Beaumont Residents Group has organised a meeting next Wednesday night, exclusively for the community's 100 residents, to decide how to respond to the prospect of the area being flooded.

The Luggate Residents Association will discuss the issue at a meeting on August 28.

Margaret Healy, co-ordinator for the Beaumont group, said the meeting was needed because "the dam has reared its ugly head again".

Whether that meant a full-blown community response was up to the meeting.

In the mid-1990s, a petition against the proposed dam was signed by 26,000 people.

Mrs Healy was comforted by comments in yesterday's Otago Daily Times by Energy Minister David Parker that the Government did not want to see more Clutha hydro-electricity projects, but said she realised that might not be enough to stop development.

The proposed dams had the potential to become an election issue, she said.

Beaumont resident Maureen Wood believed the community would put up an even stronger fight against a dam than previously.

Mrs Wood, who with husband Bob has lived in the area for 50 years, said talk of the dam being revisited had strengthened the resolve of those living in the area.

Luggate Residents Association spokesman Geoff Taylor predicted the general feeling of some residents would be a "totally negative response" to the "speculative" issue of a Luggate dam, but others would back the proposal.

Wanaka Community Board deputy chairman and Luggate resident association representative Ken Copeland said he did not support dams on the upper stretches of the Clutha River - especially given Contact's recent management of water levels at Lake Hawea: "I've got no confidence in them.

They have drawn down as much water as possible from Lake Hawea and keep dams at almost empty levels.

They don't try to conserve water in a dam for when power is needed most in winter," he said.

Clutha Matau-Au River Parkway chairman Lewis Verduyn said there was no justification for even considering damming the upper reaches of the river.

The consequences of hydro-electric dam plans for affected communities was "a price too high to pay".

There was a depth of bitter feeling among people against any plans by Contact to revisit hydro-electric schemes, he said.

Mr Verduyn said flow levels in the upper Clutha River were the lowest they had been in years and a hydro-electric dam at either Luggate or Queensberry was unsustainable.