Contact Energy fails to meet Lake Dunstan’s obligations

Community groups are calling for Contact Energy’s Clyde Dam consent terms to be reviewed.

Currently, a once-in-five-year chance to change consent is open.

Save Our Lake Dunstan and the Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust said Contact Energy was failing to meet its current obligations to the community and they wanted tougher conditions imposed on the power giant.

Contact Energy has denied these allegations and said it takes its obligations seriously.

The company yesterday submitted an updated landscape and visual amenity management plan to the Otago Regional Council, which details how it would manage its effects on the lake.

Dunstan Lake originated in the Think Big era – formed when the Clyde Dam transformed the Clutha River – Mata Au – and the Kawarau River which feeds it at Cromwell Junction into the reservoir it is now.

But the silt flowing from the Kawarau River and Mata Au was trapped and accumulated for three decades.

As a result, the Kawarau Arm of Lake Dunstan is now a shallow, sometimes smelly and dangerous mess.

Save Our Lake Dunstan spokesman Brendon Urlich said that was a far cry from what Cromwell promised in 1992.

“It was always about ‘we put in a dam, you lose a river but you’re going to have a great lake front, you’re going to have recreational use from swimming to boating to fishing and everything in between “and in a very short period of time, that was pretty much removed and no one takes responsibility for maintaining it.”

According to Urlich, it’s simple – Contact Energy operates the dam and holds the consent that created the lake, and it should be their responsibility to maintain it.

The consent required Contact to manage the landscape and visual amenity of the Kawarau Arm.

But that condition should be strengthened, Urlich said.

“Number one – Contacts have to do what they are supposed to do now, which they don’t. They don’t maintain access to the lake, they don’t clean it as they should, they spend the bare minimum in terms of what we watch and what we enjoy as a local community,” he said.

Long list of frustrations

The resource consent gave the Otago Regional Council a three-month window every five years to notify Contact of its intention to review conditions, and specifically mentioned the accumulation of sediment in the Kawarau Arm.

This window is now open.

Urlich and Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust chairman Duncan Faulkner want the council to exercise that right and not miss the opportunity for another five years.

Faulkner said the residents of Cromwell felt abandoned by Contact.

“They’re frustrated with the silt, they’re frustrated with the lack of planning around the silt, they’re frustrated with the lack of transparency around the options available to deal with the silt, they’re frustrated with the lagarosiphon, they’re frustrated with the lack of amenity values.”

Contact was not fulfilling its obligations as a corporate citizen in the community, he said.

“We’ve made that very clear and invite them to live up to community expectations. Put people and land before profit,” Faulkner said.

Earlier this year, Contact Energy reported half-year profit of $134 million.

The company could clearly do more to maintain the lake, Faulkner said.

He wrote to the Otago Regional Council asking for the consent to be reconsidered.

“All the trustees are of the same opinion that the current conditions are not met and that the current conditions in place are not appropriate,” he said.

Cromwell Community Council Chair Anna Harrison said she was told the intention was still for the Kawarau Arm to become a braided river.

She was not living in Cromwell when the lake was formed, but she recognized many who disagreed that a braided river was still its ultimate destiny.

No matter what, it should remain usable by the community, she said.

The community council had no decision-making power over the lake, but its role was to ensure that the expectations of the community were heard.

“There needs to be more lobbying on – OK, it could be a braided river, but how do you make sure it’s not a muddy mess. A stinky mess that attracts weeds and logs that make it unattractive and unusable for our community,” Harrison said. .

Regional council reflection options

Otago Regional Council’s chief regulatory and communications officer, Richard Saunders, said the council had received the request for a formal review of the consent terms.

“No decision has been made. Staff are still considering whether to begin a formal review of the terms of consent,” he said.

Contact Energy hydro generation manager Boyd Brinsdon said the decision was up to the council, but if pursued Contact would work with ORC to explore what that would look like.

“We take our obligations to the community very seriously, both in the form of mitigating the adverse effects of our production activities and of generally good corporate behavior.”

Brinsdon cited Contact driftwood removal, lake bed monitoring, water intake access, safety signage, archaeological monitoring, management of lake bed levels at Bannockburn and Lowburn, and their financial contribution to the elimination of lagarosiphon weeds as examples of this.

The company has also sponsored community events and facilities, he said.

“We take our consent obligations extremely seriously. Contact’s obligations are to mitigate the adverse effects of our production activities on Lake Dunstan and the wider Clutha catchment,” Brinsdon said.

“The reality is that the bed of the lake has changed and will continue to change and the condition of consent requiring the [Landscape and Visual Amenity Management Plan] plan reflects this eventuality. This displacement of lake beds, sediments and water flows was anticipated and was part of the expectations set during the construction of the dam and was well explored during the consent renewal process between 2001 and 2007.

“In specific situations, silt dredging may be an appropriate form of mitigation. In fact, we have undertaken dredging activities at the Lowburn and Bannockburn entrances. However, in the long term, continued silt dredging may not be possible. not be the solution we’re all looking for.”

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