Appeals may take 5 weeks

Environment Court appeals opposing a planned $900 million hydro power scheme on the lower Waitaki River will be heard in Oamaru and Christchurch, may take up to five weeks and involve as many as 70 witnesses.

Meridian Energy Ltd wants to build its north bank tunnel concept (NBTC) scheme on the lower Waitaki River, but that has been appealed by the Waitaki Protection Trust, Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe Fishers People and Black Point farmer Garth Dovey.

At a pre-hearing conference in Oamaru yesterday, Judge Jon Jackson set a timetable which would have the court start hearing evidence in Oamaru for two weeks from June 22, then in Christchurch from July 6 to 17, with a fifth week if needed.

Meridian and ECan both sought to have some or all of the hearing in Christchurch.

Meridian counsel Jo Appleyard said Meridian was seeking "the first possible court fixture" it could get. A Christchurch venue would be more suitable for witnesses and counsel, because of the logistics and time of having them "out of town", she said. Some appellants opposed that.

Judge Jackson would have preferred the hearing to be held locally. However, he came up with a compromise by splitting the hearing between Christchurch and Oamaru, with Meridian starting its evidence in Oamaru. Out of town witnesses could then present their evidence in Christchurch.

Miss Appleyard said Meridian was open to mediation over the appeals, provided it did not delay a hearing date.

It was already in discussions with the Ngati Mamoe Fishers People and Mr Dovey, and there was "a good prospect" those appeals would be settled.

Ngai Tahu counsel Philip Maw said Ngai Tahu had also entered discussions with Meridian and intended to have private mediation.

Meridian planned to call 37 witnesses, although Waitaki Protection Trust counsel Robert Makgill felt not all were needed.

He believed witnesses for all parties could identify the issues that needed to be heard, which would reduce the time the court needed.

Judge Jackson directed that, after evidence was filed, witnesses caucus be held from May 25 to determine areas they agreed or disagreed upon, reporting to the court by June 18.

He also set in place a timetable for parties to exchange evidence and rebuttal, starting with Meridian and ECan on April 17.


North Bank scheme

• The Meridian Energy Ltd $900 million north bank tunnel concept power scheme is to take up to 260 cumecs of water from Lake Waitaki into a 34km-long tunnel between the Waitaki dam and Stonewall with one powerhouse generating between 1100 and 1400gWh a year.

• Environment Canterbury (ECan) granted four water-only resource consents in December to divert, take, use and discharge water for the new power scheme.

• Five appeals filed with the Environment Court by the Waitaki Protection Trust, Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe Fishers People and Black Point farmer Garth Dovey oppose granting consents.

• Environment Court pre-hearing before Judge Jon Jackson yesterday set a timetable to hear the appeals:Venue: June 22 to July 3, Oamaru; July 6 to 17, Christchurch; fifth week from July 20 if needed.

• Up to 70 witnesses.

• Meridian and ECan's evidence ready by April 17.

• Appellants' evidence by May 22.

• Meridian and ECan's rebuttal evidence by June 12.

• Expert witnesses to discuss evidence to determine points at issue.

• Mediation may be held between parties.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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