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Farrant leads charge over Project Aqua

By Chris Hutching

Friday 19th September 2003

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South Island businessman Ian Farrant is leading a group that has been negotiating with the government about compensation for the Waitaki Valley community affected by Meridian Energy's proposed $1.5 billion Project Aqua hydro generation scheme.

The rationale behind the compensation idea follows the government payment of $120 million to West Coasters when it closed indigenous timber logging three years ago.

Mr Farrant's team includes prominent farmer David Douglas, a director of Merino NZ, and ex-All Black Ian Hirst. They have been pointing out to the government the extraordinary scale of that Project Aqua canal system that will be as high as a five-level office building and wide enough to easily accommodate two Cook Strait ferries side by side. The canals will take about two-thirds of the Waitaki River's flow.

The team has argued once Project Aqua goes ahead the water will be irreversibly lost to the valley for other economic uses and it is impossible to know what New Zealand's requirements will be in 50 years' time or what the climate may be like. Agricultural spin-off industries like meat processing and transportation will be affected.

Mr Farrant has avoided naming a specific monetary figure, saying his position depends on the amount of irrigation Meridian makes available.

Meanwhile, Meridian's resource consent applications promise a massive feeding ground for lawyers and resource consultants. Although the government has intervened to set up a special panel to hear competing applicants for water, it has not called in all the consent applications.

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