Meridian consent agreement reached

Waitaki First has reached agreement with Meridian Energy Ltd over conditions on resource consents for a $1 billion power scheme the Government-owned company proposes to build on the lower Waitaki River.

The two, along with other parties, have been mediating over conditions proposed by the Environment Court in a preliminary decision it delivered in September granting four water-only resource consents for the north bank tunnel scheme.

In that decision, the court directed Meridian, appellant the Lower Waitaki River Management Society and other interested parties to reach agreement on conditions.

The court is scheduled to sit in Oamaru from July 5 to determine what progress has been made.

The Lower Waitaki River Management Society has not yet reached agreement with Meridian, but chairman Bill Penno yesterday said it was close. He was confident the society would be ready for the hearing next month.

A third interested party, Dugald MacTavish, of Moeraki, said several issues were yet to be resolved.

Unless negotiations occurred within the next three weeks, those issues may have to be resolved by the court.

"There are too many outstanding issues Meridian is not prepared to agree to that I have raised," he said.

Waitaki First chairwoman Helen Brookes yesterday said it had signed on the conditions with Meridian.

It had started mediation with a set of conditions and most had been accepted by Meridian.

"We arrived at a position which met our recommendations we made at the outset."

Dr Brookes said Waitaki First had approached amendments on a scientific basis and had managed to achieve changes, including flushing flows for didymo, and research projects, such as for wetlands, which would be carried out before the scheme was commissioned to establish a "status quo".

"The discussions have been very positive.

"Meridian's approach, based on our experience, has been very different from that with Project Aqua," she said, referring to Meridian's previously proposed hydro-electricity scheme, which led to the formation of Waitaki First.

One issue which had not been settled was the lapse period for the consents. Meridian had sought a lapse period - the time in which it had to exercise its consents - of 12 years. The court had suggested six years.

The north bank tunnel concept is a 34km-long tunnel taking up to 260cumecs from just above the Waitaki dam, with a single powerhouse generating between 1100GWh and 1400GWh of electricity a year, and returning the water to the river at the Stonewall.



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