He’s pulling finger out for our dyke

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Ten years after Queens­town was inundated, the Otago Regional Council trots off to Wellington – seeking precedent-setting flood protection.

ORC boss Graeme Martin will meet Environment Minister Nick Smith next Wednesday to pitch for amendments to the Ka­w­­arau Conservation Order.

Because of the order, planning commissioners have rejected ORC’s bid for a three-metre high dyke at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers.

The confluence was blamed for the devastating flood of 1999 because backwash from the raging Shotover prevented the Kawarau from draining Lake Wakatipu.

Martin plays down next week’s pow-wow, saying he’s meeting Smith to discuss flood management generally and will tack the Kawarau issue on to the chit-chat.

Yet he admits the lobbying could create a precedent.

No conservation order has been amended previously – but then no one has ever popped the question before, he says: “It’ll be the first time a request has been made.”

Will the green brigade be up in arms?

“No, no,” Martin says, “it’s a minor technical matter, nothing more. A one-off, it has no parallels.”

“A minor change to the order” will “remove one potential [legal] impediment”, he says.

What he means is that an amendment will make it easier to convince the Environment Court to overturn the commissioners’ ruling – ORC and Queenstown Lakes District Council have already filed an appeal.

“We’d hate to think Queenstown was denied some advantage in flood mitigation so we’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Martin won’t push Smith for a decision – next week’s meeting is simply a prelude to a formal application for an amendment.

The Kawarau Con­servation Order dates from 1997 but stemmed from the mid-1980s when the now-defunct Ministry of Works had designs on damming the Kawarau and possibly other rivers such as the Shotover.

When Mountain Scene exposed the secret plan, resort tourism operators banded together and successfully lobbied for permanent protection of the entire catchment.