ORC to examine Contact's Clyde Dam obligations

by Kim Bowden - Aug 24, 2022

Exactly what Contact Energy needs to do to manage the effects on Lake Dunstan of its operation of the Clyde Dam will come under the spotlight.

Local lobby groups have long campaigned for the energy giant to clear up parts of the lake that locals have watched disappear to weeds, silt and logs.

And today their calls have, in part, been answered.

The Otago Regional Council has opted to take a once-in-a-five-year opportunity to review the energy company’s resource consent obligations.

In a statement this afternoon, the ORC has said Contact was notified yesterday of the decision.

Every five years the regional council has a three-month window to trigger such a review, and today was deadline day.

ORC general manager regulatory and communications Richard Saunders says the scope of the review is “very narrow” and is looking only at conditions relating to the Landscape and Visual Amenity Management Plan.

Should Contact be made to do more to keep boat ramps clear of silt, weeds and driftwood?

Many in the Cromwell community have been frustrated that Contact has been years overdue in having an updated management plan signed-off, even though it’s a requirement of its consent.

Plus, locals have long been calling for the scope of the management plan to be widened - the odd clear-out of driftwood from the lake edge and monitoring of the lake bed doesn't cut it as boats drive aground on silt islands and swimming spots are lost to sludge.

Members of the Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust and the Save our Lake Dunstan group have lobbied for the regional authority to get tougher on Contact, and for the community stakeholders to have more say on what’s in Contact’s management plan.

The review is a chance to address the groups’ concerns.

“We believe there is an opportunity to provide greater clarity to all parties about the expectations of what is to be included in the plan and the process by which it is updated and approved,” Mr Saunders says.

Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust chair Duncan Faulkner says after years of volunteer work by his group advocating for the lake and the town he's delighted with the news of the review.

"We're really happy that ORC has had the courage to trigger this, and to do a significant amount of work behind the scenes.

"The effects of the dam haven't been managed well and we're really looking forward to continuing to work with the ORC to help relay the concerns of the community."

Several years ago when he first made mention of the three-month trigger window for a resource consent review, he was "laughed at", he says.

"I think we've come a really long way, I think Contact has too, in terms of understanding our responsibilities.

"It's time for everyone to take a step back and give themselves a pat on the back and say 'well done, we've managed to get this far, and now let's really work together to get good outcomes for the town, the lake, the people, the water'."

Cromwell school children have a working bee to rid a section of Lake Dunstan of aquatic weeds.

Contact Energy head of hydro generation Boyd Brinsdon says he's also welcoming the review and looking forward to engaging with the council to move it forward.

“We agree there needs to be greater clarity on the consent requirements and we are positive this process will provide clarity to the plan and the parties involved.

“This is a complicated area and we are taking all due care and consideration to come out with the best outcome for all parties.”

The company takes its obligations to the community “very seriously”, he says.

The ORC has confirmed in late June Contact did submit an updated Landscape and Visual Amenity Management Plan detailing how it will manage any effects on the Kawerau Arm.

Subsequent to this process, a meeting was held to discuss the contents of the plan.

“The ORC recognises positive progress was made when we met recently with Contact Energy, Central Otago District Council and the Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust to discuss the LVAMP. 

“This [discussion] process between parties should continue, in parallel with the review,” Mr Saunders says.

Exactly how the review of the landscape management plan will happen is still being finalised, but the council will provide updates to key stakeholders as its review progresses.

It will be “at least a month” before a decision is made on the extent of any public input into the review process, Mr Saunders says.

In addition to the review of the conditions relating to the Kawarau Arm management plan the ORC is continuing with a full audit of all Contact’s hydro-electricity-related consents.

This audit may identify additional adverse effects not currently mitigated through the conditions of consent, Mr Saunders says.

Further investigations will be undertaken as required and used to inform the assessment of whether a further review is needed in 2027, when the next three-month window to trigger the process comes around.

“We acknowledge there are a number of questions raised around the current Clutha hydro-electricity scheme,” he says.

“Further evidence is required before ORC could consider a broader review of the scheme."

Main image: Driftwood piles up against the jetty in Cromwell's Heritage Precinct.



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