1 Nov 2013

Minister stops damming on Otago river

9:51 pm on 1 November 2013

A decision to stop a dam being built on the Nevis River in Central Otago has been met with disappointment by the power company behind the proposal and delight for those who fought against it.

Environment Minister Amy Adams has blocked Pioneer Generation's plans for a $150 million dam by extending the Kawarau Water Conservation Order to include the Nevis River.

The river is considered one of the region's best trout fisheries and the habitat for the rare Nevis galaxiid fish.

Ms Adams said on Friday the plan by Pioneer Generation to dam the river would have destroyed one of New Zealand's most outstanding natural landscapes and she wanted to make sure that it is protected forever.

The minister says it was a difficult decision, following seven years of fighting by Pioneer Generation and those against the scheme, but she says she had no choice but to protect the catchment.

"It isn't easy to fight these fights - they're long, they're drawn-out. No one really benefits from that, but today at least it's completed and we can put it behind us and know that this area of New Zealand is protected."

Ms Adams says her decision was based on the independent commissioners' findings that the benefits of banning future damming of the river far outweighed the benefits of hydro generation or anything else in the national interest.

Pioneer Generation's asset manager Peter Mulvihill says the protection order sends the wrong message to businesses wanting to build infrastructure in the national interest.

"It's probably not a great message for a company like ours, because we are looking at other alternatives in the region and elsewhere. We think hyrdo's still got a place."

However, Ms Adams says the amount of power to be produced was so small that preserving the environmental aspects of the river outweighed the dam.

Users of the river are very happy at the decision, including kayaker Glen Murdoch.

"We identify the Nevis as sitting in the top echelon of technically difficult rivers in New Zealand. It's a truly unique place, it's very special to kayakers."

Otago Fish and Game chief executive Neil Watson, who has battled to protect the river's fishery, says the decision makes a lot of sense as a lot of important values will now be protected for the future.

Once the Kawarau Water Conservation Order is gazetted next week, the Nevis River will remain untouched in perpetuity for future generations.