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Published: 2001-07-03 00:00:00

Lower Waikato landowners who feel disadvantaged by the Government's decision to withdraw flood protection funding may be given further opportunity to air their grievances.

At a meeting in Huntly yesterday, the Lower Waikato Liaison Sub-committee supported a call for a new committee to be established. The Sub-Committee has been set up by Environment Waikato to look issues around Project Watershed. The project is looking at how flood protection, soil conservation and river management works might be funded in the future.

The meeting heard a presentation from Ministry for the Environment representative, Lindsay Gow, who said that the responsibility for flood protection had been devolved to local communities. Present Government funding of up to $200,000 per year for the Lower Waikato scheme ceases in June 2003.

However, some committee members said they had been treated unfairly. The Tongariro Offset Works agreement provided for a committee to be set up to address their concerns, they said.

The loss of government funding and a continued shortfall in other funding for the Lower Waikato schemes was the major catalyst for launching Project Watershed, Environment Waikato deputy chairman David Peart told the gathering.

He said that Project Watershed was not about setting up "yet another rate", but finding a way to broaden the rating base, catchment-wide. The funding issues were very complex. One of the major problems was an inability to rate the Crown, even though it was a significant beneficiary and contributor to work required under Project Watershed.

Transit New Zealand’s regional manager Colin Knaggs said while compensation was paid on an ad hoc basis for all new roading projects, the difficulty was with existing roading. There was no mechanism by which Environment Waikato could gain funding from Transit NZ or other utility companies for ongoing flood protection maintenance works.

Franklin representatives reinforced their view that they favoured the status quo option proposed under Project Watershed. This meant Environment Waikato would be responsible for major channel works and Franklin District Council would continue to look after drainage schemes and minor flood protection works.

They were also adamant that there was no place for soil conservation works proposed under Project Watershed. They believed soil conservation was a responsibility for individual landowners. They would consider supporting the inclusion of education and advisory services for landowners seeking assistance with soil conservation projects.

Project Watershed is a two-year consultation programme to put in place a new funding policy for flood protection, river management and soil conservation works in the greater Waikato catchment.

It followed Government’s decision to cease funding these services and takes in the requirement under the Local Government Amendment Act No 3 to. Under the Act, those who contribute to the need for the work must help fund it, as well as those who directly benefit.

Environment Waikato is aiming to have a draft funding policy available for informal public consultation around September, and a final draft for formal consultation early next year. It needs to have the new policy in place before the 2002-2003 rating year, because that’s when existing Government funding for catchment schemes ceases.

The Lower Waikato Liaison Sub-committee is one of seven formed by Environment Waikato to advise it on Project Watershed and to communicate the project to local communities.

Project manager Nath Pritchard says Project Watershed is close to an important milestone with the pending release of the informal discussion draft.

"It is important that people in the Region understand that they could be expected to contribute towards work that is considered to be of regional significance. Now is the time for them to be taking an interest, if they want their views represented."

Those wishing to go on a mailing list to receive regular information about Project Watershed could call Environment Waikato, toll-free on 0800 932 667.