Dams Threaten River Park and Trail
The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group has signalled resolute opposition to Contact Energy’s proposed plans to dam the Clutha River. The Parkway Group is working to create NZ’s largest river parkway along the entire 338km Clutha Mata-Au corridor, including a river-length Clutha River Trail.
Parkway Group Chairperson, Lewis Verduyn, says “Contact Energy’s plans would destroy the vast economic potential of this river parkway and trail. The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway project, together with the Clutha River Trail, offers truly long-term, sustainable and economic benefits to the local communities. Contact’s dam plans do not offer us a better alternative.”
Mr Verduyn is unimpressed by the prospect of some 400 construction jobs, saying “Temporary jobs are not an incentive. The Clutha River Parkway and the Clutha River Trail will create many more jobs, sooner, and they will be permanent. Tens of millions of dollars annually will be injected into communities along the river when the trail grows. In today’s world, this natural asset is more valuable to us than another hydro dam. This wild river corridor, in its natural state, will become so economically important in the future that we will be doing everything we can to improve it and restore it.”
Parkway Group Executive Committee member, and well-known photographer, Gilbert van Reenen, says “By many criteria, the Clutha River system ranks as one of the finest in the world. Any further exploitation of it is totally unacceptable and not negotiable. The Clutha River has already been vandalised to provide more than double Otago's entire industrial and residential electricity requirements. Contact Energy is a foreign owned company. Contact’s primary objective is to maximise profit for its overseas shareholders.”
Mr Verduyn points out that “a healthy, living river is more desirable for recreation and tourism than a dead reservoir. Tourists do not come to NZ to see dam reservoirs. In fact, I've already heard from people overseas who are horrified by this news. This could really hurt us internationally."
Contact has cited recreational benefits from dams, but Mr Verduyn says "where are the benefits for fly-fishing, kayaking, rafting and jet-boating? There are enough nearby lakes for flat water recreation, but there are no other large wild rivers like the Clutha.”
He says that “it’s simply untrue to say that more dams are needed on the Clutha, because around 600MW of new generation is currently consented or under construction. There is absolutely no need to trash the Clutha River again. New Zealand is already over reliant on hydro electricity, which reduces security of supply in the winter during dry years. The current dams on the Clutha are ‘run of the river’ with little storage, and the proposed dams would have similar constraints. We need a better mix of generation.”
He is severely critical of plans which he describes as “out-dated.” He says “these are 30-year-old dam plans that have never been economic or needed. They would have major negative environmental, ecological and social impacts. These kinds of 'think big' projects are not relevant in the 21st century. Large dams are considered undesirable by most Western countries because they are more destructive, expensive, and less reversible than sustainable alternatives. Technology has moved on, and so should Contact.”
According to Lewis Verduyn “Contact Energy has cunningly proposed four options, as if we have to choose the least distasteful one. Well, we choose NONE!”
He says “the Clutha Mata-Au is at the heart of our history, and is culturally very important to Maori and Pakeha. The Clutha Mata-Au environment also has the world's greatest diversity of species confined to a single area. It is totally unacceptable to destroy unique conservation land, including the nationally important Birch Island, the Rongahere native corridor; and the Upper Clutha conservation corridor.
He believes that “many people profoundly and bitterly resent Contact’s plans, and will not be walked over. They are absolutely fed-up with this hydro nightmare that has been going on for forty-years or more, crippling land values and ruining lives.”
Lewis Verduyn says “the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway, and the Clutha River Trail, offers all the river communities a much better future.”
Trail Work Advancing
The Parkway Group is an "umbrella group" for trail focused community groups along the river. "We are involved, but moreso in the big picture, and we understand that these trails must be 'owned' by the communities," says Chairman, Lewis Verduyn. "The overall vision is to link all the river communities together, and to give them a say in how the entire river park is managed."
Two such community groups are the Clutha Gold Trail Trust, and the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust. Both are making solid progress on their respective trail sections.
Rod Peirce, Chairman of the Clutha Gold Trail Trust, and an Executive Committee member of the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group, reports that a full Feasibility Study has now been completed and the entire 73km trail from Roxburgh to Lawrence has been GPS'd and costed. The first 50kms follows the Clutha Mata-Au to Beaumont. In response to Contact Energy's dam plans, he says "the long-term benefits of a new walking and cycling trail from Roxburgh to Lawrence would surpass those of a new hydro development in the same area. Contact is saying 400 jobs will be created during the construction, but we're saying the Clutha Gold Trail will result in 4000 jobs over 50 years," he said.
Tim Dennis, Chairman of the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust, is working with a skilled and enthusiastic team on trails in the Upper Clutha, including the trail from Albert Town to Luggate, which is well advanced, but also threatened by a dam at Luggate.
'Friends of the Clutha Parkway'
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Dams Threaten River Park and Trail