Wellington, April 7 NZPA - Conservation groups are condemning a decision to allow a 80-metre high hydro dam to be built on the Mokihinui River north of Westport but many locals are welcoming the project.
State-owned enterprise Meridian Energy yesterday received resource consent for the $300 million dam and power station, 3km upstream of the Seddonville settlement, creating a 14km-long lake.
Green Party MP Kevin Hague said the dam would cause a permanent loss of environmental and biodiversity value.
The river was home to the endangered long-finned eel and the dam would reduce their habitat and "drown" 330 hectares of native rainforest, he said.
"There is nothing to recommend this dam."
Meridian must still obtain concessions for the project from the Department of Conservation, so Mr Hague called on Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson to "do the right thing" and refuse these concessions.
United Future leader Peter Dunne also said the decision to grant consent was "narrow-minded and backward".
"As well as being an area of outstanding natural beauty and abundant in native flora and fauna the Mokihinui is a top fly-fishing river and one of New Zealand's premier wilderness fishing experiences."
As part of the consent Meridian will carry out coastal erosion control works, which has been welcomed by the Mokihinui Ratepayers Association.
Spokesman Brian Morgan said the coastal protection works would give local residents peace of mind about the area's future.
"Over the last 50 years we have lost some 50 metres off the coastal front and land continues to be lost at a rate of between half a metre and a metre each year."
Mr Morgan said Mokihinui had little ability to fund coastal erosion protection works by itself and funding for such works was not available from local or central government.
Residents understood the potential for adverse environmental effects during construction and operation of the hydro project, but were satisfied these would be largely mitigated, he said.
Also pleased was West Coast iwi Ngati Waewae.
Chairman Francois Tumahai said the iwi was satisfied the project had adequately addressed cultural effects through a variety of mitigation measures including maintaining passage for native fish and undertaking pest control.
"The Coast has long suffered from poor security of supply and blackouts. Having sufficient generation for the Coast to be self sustainable from an electricity generation perspective will be a great outcome."
Meridian has previously said the scheme would produce between 310 and 360 gigawatt hours per year of electricity and power about 45,000 homes on the West Coast.
Construction was expected to take three years and employ more than 300 workers, dropping to six once the dam was up and running.
Forest and Bird South Island manager Chris Todd said the group was considering lodging an appeal with the Environment Court.
"We're pretty outraged by this decision. This will be the biggest inundation of conservation land ever in New Zealand," he said.