Morgan lives!

Environment minister invokes “grandeur,” “awe” in declining a hydro proposal

Morgan Gorge’s wild splendour is preserved—for now / Kennedy Warne

The Minister for the Environment announced today that he has declined Westpower’s proposal to install a run-of-river hydro station on the unmodified Waitaha River, on the South Island’s West Coast.

This decision has been a long time coming. I wrote about the issue in January 2017.

At the end of that story, I wrote:

Māori use the words ihi and wehi to describe the psychic force and awestruck response of an encounter with nature’s raw essence. Morgan Gorge has those qualities in full measure. Is this, then, a place to be exploited or revered?
The recreational community, in particular, argues that just knowing that such places remain intact in this country affirms something fundamental in our cultural identity, and that they should not easily be set aside.

It seems that minister David Parker agrees. His decision is important—indeed, remarkable—for two reasons. First, it gives significant weight to the interests of the recreational community, especially kayakers. In many land-use conflicts, recreational users feel their interests receive less consideration than, say, economic prospects or biodiversity values. Here, recreational values are front and centre of the decision—particularly for the elite kayakers who paddle Morgan Gorge (see photo above).

Parker writes: “I have found that the effects on intrinsic values, which are experienced by those using the area . . . for recreation are, in my view, significant.” Speaking of the dewatering of the Morgan Gorge by the proposed hydro generation scheme, he writes: “It appears incontrovertible that the Waitaha River is the apex of whitewater kayaking in New Zealand. This recreational pinnacle is to be changed from its free-flowing state by reducing its flow throughout the abstraction reach [Morgan Gorge].”

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