An environmental group has damned Cr Gary Kelliher’s outspoken comments about the Otago Regional Council’s handling of the Manuherikia River minimum flows consultation process as “ill-considered and inflammatory”.

The “prolonged and divisive debate” over the Manuherikia River minimum flows requires leadership and reconciliation, Central Otago Environmental Society (COES) chairman Mike Riddell said.

In a statement on behalf of COES, Dr Riddell said he was disappointed by Cr Kelliher’s comments in The News last week, when he said the ORC consultation process had been “a train wreck of ignoring reality” and would seriously divide the community.

“Cr Kelliher missed an opportunity to deliver leadership and reconciliation in what has been a prolonged and divisive debate over the Manuherikia catchment.

“His suggestion any outcome from the public consultation over minimum flows that does not sit well with him any future goodwill and ensure the battle lines are well and truly drawn’, is both ill-considered and inflammatory.”

Dr Riddell said many in COES shared Cr Kelliher’s frustration with the “drawn-out process of the Manuherekia Reference Group”, and that the ORC’s handling of the process had been “less than helpful”.

Voice of the Manuherikia . . . The Central Otago Environmental Society styles itself as the ‘‘voice of the river’’ in the Manuherikia minimum flows debate, and is keen to maintain a conciliatory role in finding a resolution, chairman Dr Mike Riddell says.

It was time to move forward rather than attack the organisation of which Cr Kelliher was a member and the issue had come down to “ecology versus commerce”, he said.

“The agricultural and horticultural industries are understandably not keen on any measures that will affect their income.”

It was “completely understandable” the affected groups, particularly the farmers and orchardists who had made large investments, were “legitimately aggrieved”, he said.

“However, none of that will change the fact these changes need to be made.”

COES represented “the voice of the river,” he said.

“Our pledge is in keeping with the current government’s policy of Te Mana o te Wai, which establishes that the first priority in all discussion about water usage is the life and wellbeing of the river.

“That’s our mandate.”

Dr Riddell said ORC had been historically negligent in its responsibilities “nowhere more so than in regard to historic deemed permits”, which it was attempting to rectify to enable a community-wide reconciliation process.

What was happening now was a one-off opportunity to transform “our attitudes to the Manuherikia and her tributaries .”

“It will require maturity, leadership, and goodwillfrom us all.”

Dr Riddell said the main concern of COES was the targets would be pushed too far into the future.

“We think the Otago community is looking for improvement in the near future, not in some long-distant generation.”

He disagreed with Cr Kelliher’s interpretation of science data that a small minimum flow of 1100 litres per second met the requirements of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management when ORC technical advisers recommended only at options above 3000 l/s would the health of the river not suffer.

A summary of the consultation will be released to the public this week.

In a separate communication from another reader who did not wish to be named, Cr Kelliher was singled out as one of the highest users of the Manuherikia for irrigation.

In an email to the The News, he responded: “.. My farm’s water use is no different to what is undertaken across the catchment, and to say it is the most’ is absolutely ill-informed nonsense.”

From information available publicly, his company, Springvale Downs Ltd, holds two deemed permits, and the combined total allowed flow of both is 400,000 litres per hour and 288,000,000 litres per month, divided between two sites.

“I totally refute the accusations your feedback providers have made, and they are reflective of the entrenched views that a minority in our community have, where their motivation goes beyond the best interests of the river, and is more aligned with their own personal agenda and beliefs that primary production should be halted altogether.”

See the ORC’s response to criticism HERE