All parties involved in the battle over Project Hayes agree on one thing – it has been an expensive exercise.
The six-year campaign has taken a toll personally and financially on participants, say both opponents and supporters of the wind farm planned for the Lammermoor Range, which has now been shelved by its backer, Meridian Energy.
Meridian has spent $8.9 million on the $2 billion project, while environmental groups and individuals involved in the various resource consent and legal proceedings are still counting their costs.
Save Central spokesman Graye Shattky estimated his group had spent more than $400,000 on the campaign.
Updated figures of the costs incurred by the Central Otago District Council were not available yesterday, but the figure was about $200,000 before the matter reached the High Court more than a year ago.
“Regardless of what it’s cost us – in time, in money, in days spent in court – it’s all been worth it to get this outcome,” former Upland Landscape Preservation Society trustee Ewan Carr said yesterday.
The society, which no longer exists, was one of the initial appellants against the project being granted resource consents.
“People, volunteers mostly, have made big sacrifices, but it’s worth it when a large piece of Central Otago landscape worthy of protection has been saved,” Mr Carr said.
Another Save Central member, artist Grahame Sydney, described the decision by Meridian to drop the project as a “very rational one”.
“Our concern was that this was an inappropriate scheme in an inappropriate place.”
The district council made a serious mistake in supporting the project but recently introduced changes to the district plan should make it harder for large-scale developments in “outstanding landscapes” to gain resource consents, he said.
Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper admitted to having mixed feelings about Meridian shelving the project.
“It’s been an expensive exercise for them and for us and for others. I guess it’s a missed opportunity but then, a lot of people believed it was … the wrong place to have a wind farm.
It certainly divided the community.”
If the project had gone ahead, 68 turbines would have sprouted on 4000ha Lammermoor Station, owned by John and Susan Elliot.
“It’s farming as usual for us.
When the Environment Court made its ruling [in 2009], we knew from then on the project was unlikely to go ahead,” Mr Elliot said.
In November 2009, the Environment Court found the negative impacts of the project outweighed the positive and declined the resource consents earlier granted by the CODC and the Otago Regional Council. The court ruled the Lammermoor Range was an outstanding landscape.
A “philosophical” Mr Elliot was disappointed for the Maniototo and for Otago the project had not proceeded, as it would have created employment, improved infrastructure and boosted the population.
John Douglas, of Alexandra, who opposed the project from the beginning, had some advice for companies planning large scale developments: “Firstly, listen to the feelings of the local people, the groundswell of opinion.”
The Project Hayes story
November 2005: Meridian confirms plans to build $2 billion wind farm on the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago.
May 2006: Wind farm dubbed “Project Hayes” by Meridian.
June 2006: Maniototo Environmental Society formed to fight Project Hayes.
July 2006: Meridian lodges resource consent application with Central Otago District Council.
November 2006: Labour Government confirms formal support.
May 2007: Resource consents hearing starts in Alexandra.
June 2007: Bombshell at hearing with revelations of an extra 113 turbines earmarked for site, in addition to the 176 originally announced.
July 2007: Hearing ends after 119 verbal submissions heard over 20 days.
October 2007: Consent applications lodged with Otago Regional Council.
October 31, 2007: Project Hayes approved on 4-1 vote by panel.
May 2008: Historic Places Trust withdraws its appeal.
May 2008: Environment Court appeal hearing begins in Cromwell.
June 2008: Meridian-Historic Places Trust “mitigation deal” of $179,000 confirmed.
June 2008: Contact Energy withdraws Environment Court appeal against Project Hayes.
February 2009: Environment Court appeal hearing ends in Queenstown.
November 6, 2009: Environment Court declines consent for Project Hayes.
November 27, 2009: Meridian appeals Environment Court decision to High Court.
June, 2010: Three-day appeal hearing in High Court in Dunedin.
August 2010: High Court decision sends the matter back to be reconsidered by Environment Court, with instructions about extra evidence to be considered, such as information on alternative wind farm sites in Central Otago.
November 2010: Several parties seek leave to appeal decision to Court of Appeal, but eventually decide not to.
2011: Meridian seeks adjournment of Environment Court re-hearing, is directed to file evidence on alternative wind farm sites by January 31, 2012.
January 19, 2012: Meridian announces it is withdrawing its resource consent applications before Environment Court and has shelved Project Hayes. It has spent $8.9 million on the project.
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