Submission on the intention to grant a lease, licence and easement concession for a term of 49 years under section 17Q of the Conservation Act 1987 to Westpower Limited to construct and operate a run of the river hydro scheme on the Waitaha River on the West Coast.
The West Coast branch of the Green Party has members from Karamea to Haast, and the Waitaha River falls within our area.
We oppose the granting of a concession by the Department of Conservation for a license, lease and easement to Westpower for a hydro scheme in the Waitaha River.
The Green Party would normally support run-of-the river hydro schemes (we supported the Amethyst hydro on the Wanganui tributary) and other hydro schemes such as the Stockton proposal that will also treat acid mine drainage. We are not, in general, anti-development and we are keen to support local cooperative ownership wherever and whenever possible and appropriate. We are not trying to 'lock up' all public conservation stewardship land.
However the environmental cost of the Waitaha proposal on unmodified public conservation land unfortunately far outweighs our support for locally owned development and we have little choice but to vehemently oppose the scheme.
We object to this proposal on four main grounds:
It would destroy the intrinsic values of this magnificent wild river in South Westland.
The effects on flora and fauna cannot be mitigated – the suggested measures are weak and impossible to enforce
Effects on recreational use of the area
There is no need to create this much additional electricity in South Westland, and there are other viable schemes on the Coast, which are more environmentally acceptable.
Intrinsic values of the Waitaha River
It has been agreed by all parties that the Morgan Gorge would meet the test of an outstanding natural feature in an outstanding natural landscape. The gorge is a dramatic, deeply incised feature that has clearly been shaped through regular high energy river flows. The alteration of the river flows and the intrusion of man-made structures at the beginning of the gorge would significantly change the character of this place. This would destroy the whole intrinsic nature of the wild river (‘Intrinsic value’ is defined in the Conservation General Policy as: “A concept which regards the subject under consideration as having value or worth in its own right independent of any value placed on it by humans.”). It is this intrinsic value, without the need for humans to see or feel it that is so important to many of us.
Effects on Flora and Fauna
The concession report clearly states that many natural values would be affected by this proposal.
There would be destruction of 3.5 ha of native forest with a reduction in the intactness of the vegetation.
The removal of vegetation will cause the permanent loss of habitat for lizard species at risk of extinction, including the green and forest gecko. There has been no adequate assessment of whether or not these species are present in the footprint of the development, but it is thought that it is highly likely as the habitat would be ideal.
There are a high number of threatened native bird species in the area to be disturbed (9 species plus blue duck) including kaka, falcon, kea and grey duck. In particular the effects on whio of disturbing the river flow have not been established, and the consequences on the population in the greater area have not been established. There are also western weka recorded in the catchment, which are genetically distinct from other populations of weka north of the Waitaha catchment, and the effect on these has not been determined. The possible mitigation measures suggested are not sufficient to protect our threatened bird species.
The long tailed bat is present within the footprint. The clearance of habitat and tree felling will result in loss of both their breeding and feeding habitat –this cannot be mitigated.
Effects on Recreation
This scheme would completely change the remote-like characteristics of the area – any building or structure changes the nature of the place – it would no longer be a remote setting. This catchment and its associated tracks and huts are treasured by many, including those who will never get there. Ivory Lake hut at the head of the catchment is considered to be one of the best destinations for trampers in the country.
It is obvious from the report that the kayakers feel that a hydro scheme would destroy the intrinsic nature of this white water challenge, and indeed the proposed mitigation suggested by Westpower is totally inadequate.
From the concessions report: 4.430 The Department considers that both national and international visitors, and in particularly kayakers, regardless of whether or not they have the ability to paddle the Morgan Gorge, highly value and appreciate the intrinsic worth of retaining rivers on the West Coast and around the world that can flow uninterrupted and are free of hydro schemes and their associated structures.
No amount of mitigation can change this sentiment.
The suggested mitigation for kayakers specifically does not mitigate the effect on the recreational values of the Gorge, and does nothing for the trampers in the area.
Other potential power schemes on the West Coast.
The expanded hydro scheme on the Arnold River has been fully consented, and the Arnold is already a heavily modified river
There is a proposed hydro scheme at Stockton plateau, which has the added benefit of using and disposing the acid mine drainage. This scheme is now being progressed.
Westpower themselves state that their Amethyst hydro scheme can supply the entire South Westland load, so a new hydro scheme in this area is not actually needed. If more power is needed, it is needed further up the Coast, near the population centres.
We ask DOC to reject this application by Westpower as it contravenes the following parts of the Conservation Act and does not comply with the West Coast Conservation Management Strategy. In particular it contravenes:
Section 25 of the Conservation Act 1987 (CA) on the basis that the natural and historic resources of the stewardship land would not be protected.
Section 126.96.36.199 of the West Coast CMS as the geodiversity and landscapes would not be protected from adverse effects of human use or management. Also Section 3.7.2 as the proposal does not avoid adverse effects on the beds of river or lakes.
Section 17U (2) (b) of the CA on the basis that there are no adequate methods or no reasonable methods for remedying, avoiding or mitigating all the significant adverse effects of the activity on Natural Character and Recreational values.
Section 17(U) (3) of the CA on the basis that some aspects of the proposed hydro scheme are contrary to the purposes for which the land is held
Section 17W(1)of the CA on the basis that the application is inconsistent with parts of the Conservation General Policy and the West Coast CMS.