‘None of the Sops Can Atone for the Crime’

Otago Daily Times. Grahame Sydney, artist, and patron of Waitaki First, declares some of his reasons for believing the proposed Project Aqua on the Waitaki River to be an unforgivable mistake.

‘Let’s face some facts: Meridian is a commercial enterprise attempting to stay in business. Its business is not to teach New Zealanders how to use electricity more sensibly, or more efficiently – that’s someone else’s business. Meridian’s business is to make the stuff, then sell it to us for a profit. Nor is it Meridian’s business to worry about how the landscape of this country looks, either now or in the future. The face of the earth is Meridian’s raw material, and permanent scars on that face are simply the price to be paid for Meridian to remain in business and keep the profits coming.

Without that support, the nation’s culture, in its myriad forms, could not survive.

To pretend or imply that this is the best way to generate new power to meet future demand is simply wrong, and deliberately misleading. It is not the best way. It may be the way Meridian thinks it can profit best; it may be best for engineers and planners, because monumental schemes always excite engineers and planners; it may be best for men in faraway offices to gouge their names forever into the geography of the South, lasting evidence of their own significance and status, visible in satellite shots from 300km into space, their own version of China’s Great Wall. But it is NOT the best way to cater for future demand for electricity.

Has nothing been learned from the disaster of the Clyde dam? Am I alone in regarding the loss of the Cromwell Gorge, the loss of the marvellous Clutha above Cromwell bridge, the loss of the unique orchards, the arrival of Ministry of Works suburbia in the township, all as a terrible mistake?

Let us not, ten years hence, find ourselves wishing this had never happened, as many do with the Upper Clutha. Let us not, ten years hence, find ourselves staring at the awful canal cleaving the Waitaki in two and wish we’d done more to say “no”. It’s a terrible feeling, looking back and wishing you’d done more, when it’s too late . . . and you’re staring at a shockingly scarred face, knowing it’s a lifetime after lifetime sentence, and could have been prevented.

Please remember: we are not owners of this earth, these landscapes. We are nothing more than brief occupiers, caretakers charged with its maintenance and well-considered nurture. What we do to the landscape becomes the legacy our children and theirs inherit. This project is a 60km-long, straight-edged, six-storey high gutter subdividing the river valley like a giant Berlin Wall, filled to the brim with a sluggish flow wide enough for a ship or two, and leaving a sad and pathetic once-was-beautiful braided, natural riverbed dead and overgrown to one side. If you think this is going to add beauty to our southern land, and be a valuable legacy, then I am indeed from Mars.

It is ill-conceived, inappropriate and anachronistic – a monument to short-sightedness, and I have no sympathy whatsoever for those directly involved with delivering it into our midst.’