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A special tribunal in Cromwell is considering changes to a water conservation order on the Nevis River, not hearing a resource consent application for a proposed hydro dam and reservoir on the river, Pioneer Generation lawyer Kerry Smith said yesterday.
"In this inquiry, Pioneer Generation is not seeking resource consent for a proposed dam and reservoir, nor is such an application pending," Mr Smith told the special tribunal during his opening submissions.
The power company has opposed the application by New Zealand and Otago Fish and Game Councils to alter the existing conservation order.
The existing order paves the way for the possibility of a dam on the river, but the councils want the order amended so damming is banned.
A tribunal appointed by the Ministry for the Environment has spent 10 days so far hearing submitters and expert witnesses who support the application.
Pioneer will present its case this week, calling 10 witnesses.
Mr Smith said some of the evidence already given had focused on the possible inundation of land if a hydro dam went ahead.
"The water conservation order as it stands creates no risk of inundation.
"To do that, the order would need to authorise the activities associated with building a dam and creating a reservoir."
The existing order did allow the chance for Pioneer to apply for resource consents.
"Providing an opportunity to seek consent is not the same things as allowing the activity," Mr Smith said.
"A resource consent application is subject to a robust analysis."
The matter being considered involved the water body itself, not what might happen if a later resource consent for a dam was successful, and land was flooded.
Therefore, the issue of whether rare plants or archaeological sites were at risk from a dam was outside the scope of the current inquiry.
There was ample protection for archaeological sites under the Historic Places Act, he said.
The evidence of former minister of energy, David Parker, who submitted Pioneer's proposed hydro dam would generate an "insignificant" amount of power, should be given no weight, Mr Smith said.
Mr Parker appeared to be advocating no damming of the river, which was not surprising, considering he made the same argument before the original water conservation order hearing in 1993 as counsel for Otago Fish and Game.
The demand for power generation had increased since then.
Fishery, kayaking, and landscape issues were canvassed at the time of the original hearing, as was the country's future electricity demands.