Whitewater NZ, Forest & Bird and FMC wrote a joint letter to Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry regarding a possible concession for Westpower's proposed Waitaha hydro scheme:
27 June 2017
Honourable Maggie Barry
Minister for Conservation
Private Bag 18 888
Re: DOC concession in principle granted for Westpower to develop a hydro scheme on the Morgan Gorge on the Waitaha River on DOC Estate
In December last year Whitewater NZ, the Royal Forest and Bird Society, the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand and other parties appeared before a Department of Conservation (DOC) Hearing Panel to hear submissions on DOC's decision to grant a concession in principle to Westpower to construct a hydro scheme on Public Conservation Land (PCL) on the Morgan Gorge on the Waitaha River on the West Coast. At the end of the Hearing, the Panel indicated that a decision would be announced on the outcome of their deliberations around the middle of this year.
We understand a draft decision has been made and forwarded to the applicant for their comment but no final decision has been made. We are writing to you with a request that you decline the concession.
You may or may not be aware that the Morgan Gorge is an outstanding natural feature in an outstanding natural landscape, which constitutes much of the catchment. The catchment above the bottom of the Morgan Gorge is especially recognised for its outstanding high-natural and wild and scenic values.
The Morgan Gorge is a premier white water kayaking run (one of the best of the best) of exceptional difficulty and beauty, and a seriously committing undertaking. Only a dozen or so highly skilled kayakers have ever made this descent, including overseas kayakers, such is its difficulty. Tramping and hunting in the catchment can be challenging due the precipitous terrain and gorges. However, it rewards visitors with an awe inspiring journey. The catchment also offers transalpine experiences.
The Waitaha River white water and wild and scenic values make it worthy of a Water Conservation Order, which Whitewater NZ and other parties, including the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, support. The proposed scheme would destroy many of these values.
Given these outstanding values, and DOC's statutory responsibility to look after such values on PCL for posterity and the public of New Zealand, we would ask that you as Minister ensure that this will be the case and therefore ensure that the proposed concession will be declined.
The granting of a concession to Westpower would be completely contrary to the prime purpose of the Conservation Act and the reason for which the land is held in the Conservation Estate. In addition, given the importance of our outstanding natural wild places to New Zealand's identity and international reputation as a tourist destination, in our view it would be a travesty to grant a concession and facilitate such a proposal.
This is especially so in an international environment where outstanding wild places are increasingly being threatened by development, and given that there is no need in the foreseeable future for the power that the scheme will provide. There are a number of cheaper already consented alternative schemes available for the provision of such power when and if needed, including the already expanded national grid capacity for the West Coast.
We have been somewhat perplexed that this application has even been progressed to the stage it has reached, and that a concession has been granted in principle. It leads us to conclude that DOC has 'lost its way' in performing its duties and discharging its responsibilities, and is following a pro- development agenda. It is costly to the wider community to have to defend key natural resources and values, such as those associated with the Morgan Gorge, when DOC is already charged to do so.
Finally we would like to draw your attention to the precedents set in the Minister of Conservation's decision on the Fiordland Monorail case, a number of which similarly apply to the current matter. There the Minister overturned a DOC Hearing Panel recommendation to grant concessions, for similar reasons that we have outlined above.
Please feel free to contact us if we can provide you with any further information to elaborate on our values and concerns.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this issue. Would you please be good enough to reply to us acknowledging this letter and also indicating when we can expect a final decision to be made and announced?
We look forward to hearing from you and that you have declined the concession.
Dr Douglas A Rankin
South Island Conservation Officer
Royal Forest and Bird Society of New Zealand
Vice President & Freshwater Spokesperson
Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand