A controversial scheme to export New Zealand water in bulk will have to build a key pipeline by 2019, or reapply for an easement critical to the project.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has informed Okuru Enterprises, the company developing the scheme for over 20 years, that their Deed of Easement to build the pipeline would not automatically roll over in May 2019.
If built, the pipeline would run through the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary, home to the rare Haast tokoeka kiwi. There are about 400 of the nationally critical status birds left. Eleven were released into the sanctuary on Wednesday.
Okuru Enterprises plan to pipe water from Tuning Forks creek, which originates in Mt Aspiring National Park, to a 14-hectare bulk water storage facility at Neils Beach, about 50 kilometres south of Haast. From there, the water will be piped directly into tanker ships anchored off Jackson Bay for export overseas.
READ MORE: * Controversial West Coast water export scheme granted resource consent * Battle to sell off West Coast water bubbles to the surface * West Coast water export proposal ‘sustainable’ despite objections, hearing told * Rivers of gold – Behind plans to sell water from the mountains
The original easement was granted by the Department of Conservation (DoC) in 1994, six years before the sanctuary was established. At the time it was publicly notified and hearings were held.
Barry said she would expect any fresh application to be treated in the same way as the original – open to public submission and scrutiny.
The circumstances had changed in the 23 years since the original easement was granted, Barry said.
“Any new easement application would be assessed and analysed under current circumstances and to today’s standards – including the fact that there is now a kiwi sanctuary.”
“As Minister of Conservation the protection of our threatened and vulnerable species is one of my main priorities. Accordingly, nationally significant decisions about protected kiwi habitat must be considered at the highest level.”
Okuru Enterprises director Helen Rasmussen said she assumed the issue was a matter of procedure.
Rasmussen refused to comment on if the pipeline was likely to be built by May 2019.
“I can’t disclose anything that we may or may not do, when it involves other parties or should it involve other parties.”
The Deed of Easement is one of four consents the development would need to get off the ground.
Last week they were granted resource consent by the Westland District Council (WDC) to build the pipeline and storage facility.
That consent states Okuru Enterprises must develop a kiwi management plan, with the objective of “avoiding adverse effects from construction and ongoing activities within conservation land on Haast tokoeka [kiwi] living within a 100ha radius of the proposed pipeline route”.
Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said the WDC’s decision to grant the consent was “beyond comprehension”.
“The proposal is to take our water, ship it off shore for marginal benefit to the local community but with a potentially catastrophic cost to a species that’s already at critical risk of extinction.”
The company has also been granted a water take consent by the West Coast Regional Council (WCRC), allowing a monthly take of 800,000 tonnes, or 800 million litres.
An application to renew a coastal permit for a 5km pipeline extending into Jacksons Bay is the final consent required. It is still pending with the WCRC. Public submissions on the application close on April 21.
WILL THE KIWI BE AFFECTED?
Kiwi expert John McLennan, who has worked with kiwi conservation programs for decades, is confident the pipeline would have minimal impact on the kiwi if it does go ahead.
McLennan was called in as an independent consultant to look at the scheme when the Deed of Easement was first sought in 1993, and has stayed up-to-date on the project.
He said even though there are more kiwi there now, the impacts have hardly changed.
McLennan had recommended all kiwi living on the route of the pipeline to be radio tagged and monitored daily, and moved if the pipeline was likely to affect them.
As an added precaution, there were also plans to have searchers with a kiwi-tracking dog out daily, to look for roaming juveniles who might come into the area.
“With those precautions, I concluded the actual construction of the pipeline is going to have minimal impact on the birds.”
Adult kiwi pairs have territories that are 30 to 40 hectares in size.
McLennan said it was “very unlikely” any kiwi would have to be moved if the pipeline was built, as the relative footprint of the project is so small.
Rasmussen said whether the project would adversely affect or endanger the kiwi was “a huge consideration”.
“It’s a bit like anything. You don’t mess up your own back yard, and this is my back yard, which I’ve lived and worked in my whole life.”
She said she got upset by people casting aspersions the project was there to “rape and pillage and take everything we can out of the environment”.
OPERATION NEST EGG
The 11 kiwi relocated to the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary were released into Music Creek and Hindley Basin, which is not a part of the sanctuary the pipeline would go through. They are reported to be settling in well.
They are the product of an intensive programme called “Operation Nest Egg” which protects the rare birds from predators.
Eggs are removed from Haast and taken to the West Coast Wildlife Centre to hatch. They then spend time at the Orokonui Eco-sanctuary or Willowbank Wildlife Sanctuary, where they learn how to forage, before being taken to Predator Free Rona Island to grow to at least 1600g.
At that stage the kiwi are big enough to fend off the introduced predators that threaten the species.
Without protection from stoats, 95 per cent of tokoeka kiwi chicks would be killed.
Most of the area Haast tokoeka kiwi are found in is covered by the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary, which has an active 6000 hectare stoat trapping program.
Since the early 2000, the bird’s population has risen from about 300 to about 400.
The Haast tokoeka kiwi and its relative, the Okarito rowi kiwi are New Zealand’s rarest kiwi species.