The Board of Inquiry into the proposed Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke's Bay has completed its first day of hearings, with the chair acknowledging that there are strong feelings on all sides of the debate into the $600 million project.
The board is considering whether to grant resource consent for an 83-metre-high dam near the Ruataniwha Ranges to store about 90 million tonnes of water for irrigating farmland. It must make a decision by April 2014.
The regional council is promoting the dam, saying it would help improve the health of the Tukituki River and bring economic growth to central Hawke's Bay.
Opponents say the ensuing intensification of agriculture would lead to greater pollution of the Tukituki River and could possibly kill the waterway.
The first day of the inquiry on Monday was taken up by lawyers for the Hawke's Bay Regional Council presenting opening submissions.
A prayer from Ngati Kahununu was said at the Hastings Opera House, with a kaumatua (elder) saying the issues involved are deeply felt for local Maori.
Board chair Justice Chisholm told the inquiry that a huge amount of effort has been put in by submitters - no matter what position they take on the dam.
The judge said the board fully appreciates that there are very difficult issues to be considered and there are strong feelings on all sides of the debate. He said the inquiry has a tight timeframe and will do its best to make sure everyone is heard.
The hearings are set to continue until February next year.