Bulldoze problem zone

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“The best, most realistic way to address the flood problem is to bulldoze Queenstown to above the flood line and turn it into gardens.” 

George Wilson is the lone objector blocking Queenstown’s only flood-relief plan and he’s kept quiet in this crisis – until now. 

“I know [bulldozing the CBD] is totally unrealistic and it won’t happen [but] it’s either that or live with flooding,” he says. 

“Queenstown was built on a flood plain and if you want to fix the flood problems, you’ve got to start with that.” 

Acting as his own lawyer, Wilson has battled Otago Regional Council for two years over its plan to excavate the confluence of the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers and build a three-metre dyke to smooth the Shotover’s path into the Kawarau. 

ORC says the scheme will yield “some advantage in flood mitigation”. 

However, Wilson scoffs that it’ll create a “140ha dustbowl” on the Shotover Delta, neighbouring his “three- or four-acre” spread. “[The delta would be] a wide-open expanse with no vegetation to mitigate the fine silt dust – and it’s a very windy location.” 

Wilson suggests that like Iceland’s volcano, delta dust could endanger jet engines of aircraft landing at Queenstown Airport. 

The 55-year-old contractor just doesn’t believe ORC’s plan “will actually achieve any worthwhile benefit for Queenstown” – if it does, it would create “significant adverse effects for the likes of the lower Clutha flood protection scheme”. 

ORC’s just playing politics, Wilson alleges: “[ORC] needs to be seen to have done something before the next significant flood event – otherwise their heads are in the noose.” 

Current flooding doesn’t shake his opposition – “Not at all.” 

Wilson’s objection saw independent commissioners reject the dyke-on-the-delta idea so ORC and Queenstown Lakes District Council appealed to the Environment Court, where hearings finished last Friday. 

The verdict is due late this month or in early June. 

Wilson fancies his chances and hopes the judge adopts a “reduced-scale compromise” Wilson suggested “from day one”.

Second life from Smith

If the Environment Court turns down Otago Regional Council’s delta dyke, Environment Minister Nick Smith may step in. 

ORC has appealed to Smith for a “minor change” to the Kawarau Conservation Order to clear the legal path for its flood-relief scheme – but Smith is awaiting the court’s verdict first. 

He says he’s getting “resistance” to the precedent of amending a conservation order yet is “supportive”
of ORC. 

Smith says he doesn’t want to rock the boat unnecessarily but if the verdict goes against ORC, he’ll “pragmatically” look at doing just that.