Consents have been granted for the continued operation of two power stations at Wairere Falls and Mokauiti in the King Country.
Commissioners heard the applications from King Country Energy Ltd for damming, water takes and discharges and altering the spillway at Mokauiti. Four submitters lodged submissions, including neighbours, the Mokau Ki Runga Regional Management Committee and Waikato branch of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
A key legal issue was the definition of a “baseline environment” to assess the effects against. It was decided that the effects of existing structures which were lawfully established and would not be removed would be disregarded and seen as the starting point for assessing the effects of the activities.
The Hearing Committee was satisfied that, while small on a national scale, the two power stations played a significant role in production of electricity for this part of the King Country and were important to the company’s profitability and reliable supply of electricity.
It said hydro power was a renewable energy source but still had effects on the environment by impounding water and flooding land, trapping sediments and acting as a barrier to fish migration.
A local farmer was concerned at the effect that measures to alleviate flooding upstream might have on his land downstream of the Totoro Gorge. The submitter was concerned that the effects on people downstream of the dam were fully recognised and that emergency management was considered.
The Committee was satisfied that the control gate on the Wairere Falls scheme would reduce flooding upstream. On the Mokauiti scheme, the control gates would have benefits in reducing the extent and duration of upstream flooding. It could be operated in a way which addressed the concerns of local residents about additional flows through the dam structure.
The existence of the dams had significantly affected the passage of fish but a well managed trap and transfer system at Wairere for migrating elvers had been effective in reducing the effects and further measures were proposed, the Committee said.
There were also concerns about consultation with iwi, which the Committee described as patchy, but there had been a significant degree of contact with tangata whenua which had been effective in raising issues.
The Committee was satisfied that the measures the company proposed to adopt for flooding, silt control and fish passage would go a long way towards addressing the concerns raised by tangata whenua and represented appropriate recognition.