Support for irrigation scheme means feasibility study next

"Clear support from the community'' buying shares in a new irrigation scheme for Waimate means it can now go to the next stage - assessing whether it is viable.

The Hunter Downs irrigation scheme, in planning for eight years, was estimated in 2009 to cost $200 million to use about 20 cumecs of water from the Waitaki River to irrigate up to 40,000ha.

In March, shares were offered in Hunter Downs Irrigation Ltd (HDIL) to raise sufficient capital to carry out a feasibility study into the scheme's technical and economic viability.

If it proceeds beyond that, work could start in late 2016 and water could be available from the beginning of the 2018-19 irrigation season.

HDIL chairman Andrew Fraser said yesterday farmers, the corporate sector, and local government had backed the next stage and 27,390 shares had been issued to 151 shareholders, mostly within the potential scheme area.

They paid $25 a share as instalment one of a $200-per-share total. That raised more than $680,000 now and potentially $5.4 million once all instalments were received.

The first instalment of $25 per share is what HDIL needs for the next phase of work.

''We are heartened by the clear support from the community to back the project going to the next stage,'' Mr Fraser said.

Two future instalments would be called in if initial work confirmed a viable scheme.

They would provide the funds for further consenting, land access, constructor procurement and construction.

The scheme already had resource consents to take the water from the lower Waitaki, but still needed land-use consents from the Waimate District Council.

Shareholders were broadly spread across the scheme area from Waimate to Timaru, along with the Timaru and Waimate district councils and Meridian Energy.

''With this positive financial support from the region ... we can now work to finalise the further funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries' irrigation acceleration fund.''

The successful capital-raising represented a huge team effort between farmers, HDIL, its advisers, Meridian and the ministry.

''It is this type of team effort that we need to take the scheme from a concept to a reality,'' Mr Fraser said.

To get the scheme to the decision-to-build stage could cost up to $15 million, but if it goes ahead it could create up to 1200 new jobs and inject more than $117 million a year into the region's economy.



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