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Environmentalists Vow To Stop Wairau Hydro Scheme, In Project Aqua- Style Campaign    Chris Mole - Associate Editor

June 30, 2004

TrustPower is bracing itself for a long, expensive fight with environmentalists over its proposed $240m hydro scheme on the Wairau River in Marlborough. In what is shaping up as another Project Aqua-style campaign, a collection of environmental groups have launched “Save the Wairau” and have called on the 6000-plus people who made submissions against Project Aqua to join them in trying to stop the Wairau scheme also.

TrustPower Community Relations Manager Graeme Purches is furious at “blatant misinformation” about the scheme being put about by environmentalists, including Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who has thrown her party’s weight behind the Save the Wairau campaign.

Purches says the company has scaled down the project from its original 110MW to 70MW, in an effort to ensure its sustainability. He claims Fitzsimons is “deliberately misrepresenting the facts” by stating the scheme will take 85% of the river’s flow when, in fact, it will take a maximum of 55%, and the figures are clearly stated in TrustPower’s proposal documents.

The plan is to divert up to 40 cubic metres of water per second (cumecs) from the Wairau River through 46km of canals south of Blenheim between Birch Hill and Marchburn. Purches says the Wairau scheme is fundamentally different to Project Aqua in that it is designed specifically to address a power shortage in Marlborough, not to supply electricity to the rest of NZ.

“There’s a significant groundswell of public support in Marlborough for the proposal.”

TrustPower has been negotiating with more than 60 landowners in the Wairau Valley for several months to secure easements on their properties. The project remains on track and the company expects to file for resource consents next month.

Purches says during the resource consent process, “the facts will be laid on the table and show the misinformation being spread by (opponents of the project) to be blatantly wrong.”
Fish and Game Nelson-Marlborough manager Neil Deans sums up the feelings of those groups opposed to the scheme: “We’re strongly opposed to this Tauranga-based power company coming into Marlborough and trying to set up a new Project Aqua on one of our icon rivers.”

The Wairau is NZ’s longest braided river and is the largest breeding ground for two endangered bird species, the black-fronted tern and black-billed gull.

Fitzsimons is urging TrustPower to focus on its proposed wind farm at nearby Seddon, which she believes could potentially generate as much power as the Wairau hydro scheme. 

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