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Changes Recommended To Project Watershed

Environment Waikato is expected to make a number of changes to its Project Watershed proposals following hearings which finished yesterday.

Following public submissions, Waikato Regional Councillors have recommended a number of changes to proposals for a new rating system to fund flood protection, soil conservation and river management work. Project Watershed Hearings Committee Chair Andra Neeley said Councillors determined some details of the draft funding policy needed to be changed.

"Generally, there's been agreement that the work is necessary and must be done. But we've had a week of very good and well-argued submissions. A number of groups have spoken strongly and have convinced us that in some instances, amendments to our original proposals are justified," Cr Neeley said.

The Committee will recommend that Environment Waikato use a standard charge in Huntly and Otorohanga for all those who benefit from the work.

"That's what residents want, and we'll recommend that's what Council does," Cr Neeley said.

"We're also recommending that the part of the rate applying to those who contribute to the need for work be based on land value, rather than capital value. This was strongly argued by Hamilton City Council which wanted to ensure high value urban property owners would not be unfairly penalised, given the lesser impact of their activities."

The Committee will also recommend that further investigation be done on lowering of the main Waikato River bed through Hamilton before a decision is made on how to fund work.

"More investigation is needed before a policy can be reached which all parties think is fair. However, we believe work on the river previously funded by Hamilton City should continue to be done and instead be funded under Project Watershed."

Under the Committee's recommendations, landowners who receive direct benefit from soil conservation work will contribute slightly more than originally proposed.

"Landowners wanting work on their land in areas of catchment priority will be asked to pay 65 percent of the cost instead of the 48-56 percent originally mooted. In Taupo, we're suggesting that landowner contribution reduce to 50 percent because of the national importance of the lake.”

The Committee will also recommend an extra $90,000 be spent on soil conservation work in the middle and lower reaches of the Waikato River.

"We have made an absolute commitment to work with farmers to sustain our productive soils and maintain stable river beds. If people wish to undertake soil conservation work in priority areas, we should encourage them as much as possible."

Other recommendations included spreading the costs of river management work in Tongariro and Tauranga-Taupo over a wider area so direct charges could be reduced. The Committee also endorsed ongoing efforts by Environment Waikato to ensure the Crown continues to contribute to the cost of Waikato River flood works.

It recommended that the Council form an iwi advisory board to deal with matters relating to the implementation of Project Watershed, following a strong and unified submissions from many iwi.

If accepted, amendments to the original proposal will see total costs for Project Watershed drop from $5.8 million to $5.5 million per year, compared to current spending of $4.3 million. Recommendations from the Hearings Committee will be made to the full Council in late June when the funding policy will be formally adopted.

Further submissions on Project Watershed can be made through Environment Waikato's Draft Annual Plan process until tomorrow.

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