Panel for Waitaki hearings appointed

Gordon Whiting.
Gordon Whiting.
A three-man panel has been appointed to sit in Oamaru for 11 days to consider whether a water allocation plan for the Waitaki River should be changed, including altering its minimum flow.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) has proposed changes to the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan, prepared in 2005 by a five-member Government-appointed board.

Two minor changes have already been made, but Plan Change 3 addresses probably the most contentious issue - lowering the minimum flow of the river from 150 cumecs to varying flows of between 102 cumecs and 150 cumecs, depending on the time of year.

It also proposes to allocate 11 cumecs to Ngai Tahu for its use, assure reliability for irrigation and more security when resource consents come up for renewal, including those of Meridian Energy Ltd and Genesis Energy for Waitaki hydro schemes.

The proposal attracted almost 560 submissions, some as far away as Auckland and Invercargill, with 80% opposed to the change, mainly the lowering of the minimum flow.

A three-man panel has been appointed by ECan to hear some of those submissions, which include expert witnesses and evidence from groups such as Meridian Energy, irrigation companies, Central South Island Fish and Game Council, Lower Waitaki River Management Society, Waitaki and Waimate District Councils and Ngai Tahu and its runanga.

The panel is retired Environment Court Judge Gordon Whiting as chairman, along with two commissioners, Andrew Fenemor and Edward Ellison.

Inclusion of Judge Whiting is partly because there is no appeal to the Environment Court, as usual, but only to the High Court on points of law under the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010, which sacked elected councillors and replaced them with government-appointed commissioners.

The hearing panel will come to North Otago on June 8 for a tour of the Waitaki River, so it can better understand evidence and familiarise itself with the catchment, before hearings begin on June 9.

In a minute and directions issued by the panel, it said it intended ''to manage the hearing efficiently, and to give each submitter sufficient opportunity to explain the basis for the submission''.

The panel, before the hearing, would read evidence filed and submitters would generally be allocated 15 minutes to speak and a further 10 minutes for questions from commissioners.

Submitters could apply for extra time, explaining why.

It called for any preliminary legal issues that needed to be considered before hearing submitters. Issues had to be filed with ECan by May 29.

Confirmation of wishing to be heard and the time needed also must be filed by that date.



At a glance

What: Hearings on submissions on proposed changes to the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan to lower minimum flows

Submissions: 560

Panel: Gordon Whiting (chairman), Andrew Fenemor (commissioner), Edward Ellison (commissioner).

When: June 9-12, June 22-26 and August 3-4.

Where: Oamaru Opera House.


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