No debate on Nevis decision

Discussion on the recent Environment Court decision on whether damming should be banned on the Nevis River was stifled at the Otago Fish and Game Council's meeting this week, after it was revealed some councillors had yet to read the report.

The 148-page report for Environment Minister Amy Adams was made public two weeks ago, two of the three commissioners recommending a complete prohibition on damming.

The Otago Fish and Game Council met in Tapanui on Wednesday and, while it was not an agenda item, councillors asked for an update on the Nevis issue.

Otago Fish and Game Council chief executive Niall Watson told councillors he did not think anything in the commissioners' decision needed to be contested by the council.

The recommendation by Commissioners Kathryn Edmonds and John Mills, together with the earlier agreement the entire Nevis Valley should be reclassified in the Central Otago district plan as an outstanding landscape of national importance, was a ''major improvement'' on the protection the area had in the past, Mr Watson told the Otago Daily Times earlier this month.

Judge Jon Jackson took a different view and recommended the potential for a small dam on the river be left open, subject to certain conditions. Both series of recommendations - the majority view by Commissioners Edmonds and Mills and the minority view by Judge Jackson and the reasons behind those views - will be forwarded to Ms Adams to make a final decision, ending seven years of debate on the matter.

Councillor Colin Aldridge said he found himself agreeing with Judge Jackson the possibility of a small dam should be left open, subject to conditions.

He said he had stood on a platform of moderation and supported a ''fair and reasonable compromise''.

Cr John Jillett said that was contrary to everything the Nevis case stood for.

''We have never, ever said we would accept a dam of any sort on the Nevis. The whole substance of this expensive project has been ... that a dam is unacceptable.''

Several councillors said they did not feel they could discuss the decision as they had not yet read the report.

Mr Watson said the council had been through a process to develop its position.

''The council has a position on this and I don't think the council's decision can be reversed without some consideration, without some formal warning.''

The Nevis report may come before the council at its next meeting.

The debate began in 2006 when the New Zealand and Otago Fish and Game Councils applied for an amendment to the water conservation order to rule out hydro dams on the river.

The application attracted about 250 submissions and was heard in 2009-10 by a special tribunal appointed by the Ministry for the Environment.

The tribunal decided the conservation order should be changed to prohibit damming and diversion to protect a native galaxiid fish, a species found only in the Nevis River.

Its finding was challenged by three parties - Pioneer Generation, which had plans for a small hydro dam on the river, the fish and game councils and recreational kayaking group Whitewater New Zealand.

The Environment Court heard the matter over six days in October and November last year.


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