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Hydro scheme will ‘alter character’ of Waitaha River

The Morgan Gorge, a world-class kayaking destination, would be drained if the hydro scheme goes ahead Photo: Zak Shaw

DOC is accepting submissions for comment on a proposed hydro scheme on the Waitaha River, near Harihari on the West Coast of the South Island.

Westpower Ltd, a power company based in Greymouth, has applied for a 49-year term in which the Waitaha would be diverted into a tunnel at the head of the Morgan Gorge, and would be returned to the river 2.6km downstream below the powerhouse.

Westpower’s proposal is similar to its scheme on Amethyst Creek, a tributary of the nearby Wanganui River. The company’s application for concession states that it expects the Waitaha scheme could provide up to 25 per cent of the West Coast’s energy needs, powering the equivalent of 12,000 households. The plan also states that it would be the largest hydro scheme on the West Coast, and would provide a resource for renewable energy.

Justin Venable lives in Hokitika and is a passionate whitewater kayaker. He is opposed to the scheme and said it would be devastating not only from a recreational aspect, but also on a conservation basis.

“The fight is not because we’re losing a valuable kayaking resource, it’s the fact that the gorge, in and of itself, deserves protection. It’s stunning and unusual, and it represents the pinnacle of backcountry unique, natural landscapes in New Zealand,” Venable said.

Andrew Buglass, Permolat Trust member, said the proposed scheme would mean restricted access to the track network in the gorge. Kiwi Flat Hut is just a kilometre from where the proposed powerhouse would be built. Buglass said Westpower has promised that access will be maintained via a new track through the bush, but he said it will undoubtedly change the enjoyment and aesthetic of the tramping route.

“If you look at the overall wilderness value, the natural features, that’s really where the impact is going to be. The Waitaha is a great piece of wilderness,” Buglass said. “Anyone who takes a look at it would kind of scratch their heads as to why they actually want to alter the character of that place.”

Submissions on the proposed scheme will be accepted until November 14. To weigh in, send submissions by mail to Director-General, Department of Conservation, Private Bag 701, Hokitika 7842. Alternatively , email Pauline Adams at permissionshokitika@doc.govt.nz.