West Coast iwi paid in Mokihinui dam deal

Meridian Energy has confirmed it donated money to a West Coast iwi which changed its mind over its opposition to the massive Mokihinui River hydro dam.

The state-owned enterprise was this week granted resource consent for the $300 million, 85 metre-high dam and power station north of Westport.

The dam, 3km upstream of the Seddonville settlement, will create a 14km-long lake and inundate public conservation land.

Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae, a sub-tribe of Ngai Tahu, originally strenuously opposed the dam, but changed its mind during the hearing. This week it publicly supported the scheme.

Today the iwi said Meridian had agreed to pay into a fund "to monitor effects".

Information on "anything else" would be released after a runanga meeting at Arahura this weekend, runanga chairman Francois Tumahai, of Christchurch, said.

Meridian confirmed today that it had made a payment, but declined to say how much.

In a 2007 deal, Meridian reportedly paid $175,000 in return for the Department of Conservation not opposing a wind farm in Central Otago.

Meridian said today it had made a payment so Ngati Waewae could "fund other cultural initiatives".

"They (Ngati Waewae) did a lot of work for us in assessing the cultural impact of the project," spokesman Alan Seay said. "The cultural project we are funding is to offset the impact of the project on the mauri (life force) of the river."

In Ngati Waewae's original submission, represented by Richard Barber, it opposed the scheme for cultural reasons.

"Ngati Waewae considers that the construction of the dam, power generating stations and the associated infrastructure, such as the lake and transmission lines will degrade the awa (river) and present a significant loss to the tangata whenua," he told commissioners.

However, Mr Tumahai said that Mr Barber had not represented the true views of Ngati Waewae. The iwi had originally had a neutral stance on the project, he told the Westport News.

After the hearing adjourned a letter from Mr Tumahai indicated to the hearing commissioners that the runanga was no longer opposed.

The commissioners said Ngati Waewae's concerns had been largely "negated" by the letter, and noted "ongoing discussions" between Maori and Meridian.

Mr Tumahai today said Meridian had agreed to set up a cultural fund, and would fund the iwi to monitor the dam and its impact.

"It's very tied up with cultural enhancement, mainly around monitoring - if it (the dam) goes ahead. "

Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae is currently in the throes of building a new $3 million marae at Arahura, near Hokitika.



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