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A public meeting hosted by Environment Canterbury (ECan) at the Waitaki Bridge hall yesterday attracted about 50 people. Many aired long-standing complaints about Meridian’s inadequate contribution to river works.
ECan has proposed $1million of work to fix erosion damage, caused by high flows last summer, at 13 sites.
ECan co-ordinates engineering works in the river from the Waitaki Dam to the sea. Works are usually paid for by residents in the Lower Waitaki River Rating District, using a funding model based on which landowners benefited most from them.
Meridian pays for 40% of the works in an arrangement decided in the 1990s.
ECan river engineering regional lead Shaun McCracken said the 13 sites were on 11 landowners’ river frontages "spread all down the river".
There had been a lot of discussion about the effect of Meridian’s hydroelectricity generation on the lower river, he said.
He urged the meeting to consider both the positive and negative results.
However, several people referred to the lower river as the "tailgate" of Meridian’s hydro system and said the firm was wholly responsible for the river eating up their productive farmland while it made money from the electricity it generated.
"We’ve got absolutely no control over our investment in the river," north bank farmer Walter Cameron said.
He wanted ECan to police Meridian’s compliance and believed it was not doing so.
Riverside ratepayer and ECan Lower Waitaki South Coastal Canterbury water zone committee community member Kate White said ECan had been asked to get an independent legal opinion on Meridian’s consent.
"If Meridian has to make a bigger contribution, it’s good for ECan — it’s more money in their coffers, and they’re being good corporate citizens."
One attendee said Meridian should pay the full costs and recoup them across all electricity users in New Zealand.
That would be only a tiny amount each, the person said.
Glenavy fishing camp resident Trevor Hill said excess water came from the entire catchment because runoff was not controlled.
"To suggest just a few people on the edge of the river pay for it is just ridiculous.
"Of course Meridian should pay more. Every time this is brought up, they just bury their heads in the gorse bushes."
North bank farmer Gert van’t Klooster wanted the remedial work to start now.
"Where the money comes from, I don’t give a s...," he said.
Mr McCracken said he would report to ECan councillors and keep ratepayers informed.