Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beaumont's Rising Fortunes

Beaumont's Rising Fortunes 
By John Gibb, on Saturday 11 January 2014
Otago Daily Times 

Moves are afoot to make the small Otago township of Beaumont the thriving community it once was. John Gibb finds out about Beaumont's changing fortunes.
Once a fading rural backwater, the township of Beaumont now seems destined for a much brighter future.

People who have lived near the inland Otago township, on the Clutha River/Mata-au, for 20 years or more will remember earlier sometimes divisive and frustrating conflicts over proposed big hydro-electric dams, which would have flooded the area.

One proposal, by the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand (ECNZ) in 1992, was to build a dam at Tuapeka Mouth that would have flooded 3000ha, including all of Beaumont. But among a series of more promising developments the long-delayed replacement work involving the nearby 19th century Beaumont Bridge is at last due to start next year.

This is one of the oldest bridges in the country still operating on a major state highway.

And more walkers and cyclists are already starting to move through the township since the 73km-long Clutha Gold Trail- which runs between Roxburgh and Lawrence, and includes Beaumont- was opened by Prime Minister John Key on October 24. Long-time resident, historian and writer Bill Dacker (61) is well aware of the area's previously somewhat mixed fortunes.

''It was a little backwater that we enjoyed as a backwater,'' he recalls.

But then a series of dam proposals came along and changed everything, he said.

Some locals, including some facing tough economic times, had agreed to sell their land.

Others, including the ''Hands Off Beaumont'' lobbyists, were determined to resist and to safeguard all they found precious in the area, including its rich history and its attractive and distinctive environment.
Mr Dacker highlights the significance of the bridge replacement work.

The current bridge had been around since 1887 and had struggled to cope with some of the ''huge trucks'' now passing through.

Mr Dacker, who is a long-standing member of the Clutha Gold Trail Trust Board, says the newly opened trail and other developments mean brighter times are coming for Beaumont, which will boost the local economy by bringing in more visitors and potential new residents. Strengthening Beaumont was also important strategically, because it gave the area a better chance of influencing its own destiny in future, he said.
''Unless we're going to make the place strong in a different way, other people are [still] going to see it as a backwater,'' he says.

Dave Crawford is an experienced jet boater and co-owner-operator of Beaumont Jet, with his wife Ali, And he is also a Gold Trail board member.

It was ''great'' to see the cyclists already starting to flow along the track, through Beaumont.
''It can only be good for this area,'' he says.

When he and his wife moved to Beaumont and began jet boat operations in 2004, he had long known the area had strong potential.

The nearby Clutha River/Mata-au is ''probably the best part of the Clutha River'', he adds.

These stretches of the river were also as good as ''anything in New Zealand'' and offered plenty of variety, including ''huge rapids'' and other ecologically appealing areas.

And he is not content with Beaumont being one of the region's and New Zealand's best-kept secrets.
''The more people the better.''

Mr Dacker, who these days divides his time between Beaumont and Port Chalmers, has lived in Beaumont for much of his life, having grown up there.

His father, Harry Dacker, had initially found work there as a rabbiter in the 1920s.

Bill Dacker said the idea of building a''cycle-cum-walking trail through the district, along the river and through the farmland to Lawrence, was a direct response - a way of creating economic opportunity by bringing people into this area as well as the other areas connected by the trail''.

The idea had come from the trust's Roxburgh-based chairman, Rod Peirce, who was a ''retired orchardist from Millers Flat with long-standing connections in Beaumont as well as to the other communities along the trail.''

The lessees of the Beaumont Hotel had also contributed to the upturn in Beaumont's fortunes by continuing to develop and support ''events tailored to hunters and fishermen while adding cyclists to those they wish to give hospitality to''.

And the pub also served ''the best blue cod meals this side of Iceland'', Mr Dacker said.

Widespread support from the Beaumont community for the trust, as well as backing from ''other communities connected by the trail'', had been key to the success of the trail development.

This sense of unity and support stood in ''stark contrast to divisions in the communities'' sparked by the ECNZ dam proposal in 1992, and was ''a wonderful thing to experience''.

Alison Mills, who leases the hotel with her husband, Gunni Egilsson, is also optimistic about the future, and says patrons with different interests and from range of backgrounds, including tourists, were using the hotel and nearby camping ground.

Mr Dacker noted there had been some ''recent controversy'' over suggestions of fees for using the trail.
He emphasised there was no official fee for using it, ''but the trust asks for a koha [donation], a contribution for its maintenance from its users as at the moment the trust is solely responsible for costs of its maintenance''.

Mr Peirce (76) said there were early signs that the new trail would prove positive, and help revive smaller communities such as Beaumont and Millers Flat.

''It's very satisfying. There's a general air of enthusiasm.''

Mr Peirce, who was also once chairman of the Friends of Beaumont group, had opposed various proposals to establish big new dams nearby.

And he is positive about the new trail's benefits.

''I thought, if there's any legacy I can leave, it may well be more like the trail, which is more positive, rather than being an activist against everything.

''I'd like to be seen as someone who left something for the benefit of the community.''

People were already starting to come from far afield to ride or walk the new trail, and local families were also enjoying it.

''We've had a tremendous amount of support from Contact Energy.''

And $3.8 million from the Government's New Zealand Cycle Trail project funding had been used to support the trail's development. Through the years Mr Peirce has noticed rural decline, including loss of population and services, in some of the smaller communities.

''It's very positive. I think that the smaller villages will definitely gain a tremendous amount over the next several years and into the future from the trail.''

And Beaumont was already looking up. The school had closed some decades ago, but ''rural visitors'' were increasing and the pub was humming - ''it's quite a busy little pub'', Mr Peirce said.

The gold trail was also good for Millers Flat - ''it's the only town that the trail actually goes right through the middle of.''

And Mr Dacker highlights Beaumont's distinctive geographical position, and its historical significance.

Beaumont is the first crossing place of the Clutha River/Mata-au when travelling on SH8 from Milton to Central Otago, and its many attractions. And the area was ''one of the major entrance and exit points'' for the Clutha Gold Trail walkway.

The Clutha River/Mata-au is one of the outstanding natural features of the newly opened trail, which follows the river ''on its journey across the river flats below Roxburgh, through the Beaumont Gorge, before it turns toward Lawrence at Beaumont'', Mr Dacker says. The river crosses the Beaumont Flat and then passes through the Rongahere Gorge, the ''last major river flat and gorge respectively of the schist peneplain or block mountain system of the Central Otago highlands''.

Beaumont was a true border between very different geographical zones.

''On the Rongahere side the climate is wetter and cooler, more like that of coastal Otago than Central Otago. On the Beaumont Gorge side the climate is hotter and drier, marking the beginning of Central Otago proper.''

The Maori name for the district is Te Kohai and here the ancestors of Kai Tahu Whanui also crossed the river, but on mokihi (traditional rafts), on their journeys into the interior.

There was also once a moa-hunting era village at Beaumont.

The town of Beaumont grew around the river crossing, where a ferry operated, accompanied by a supporting structure of hotels and shops. The natural vegetation of the nearby gorges reflected the ''borderland'' characteristics.

The dominant tree on Upper Birch Island - also known locally as Native Island - in the Beaumont Gorge is mountain beech, indicating the drier and hotter conditions there. The far larger Birch Island, or Moanui, in the Rongahere Gorge below Beaumont, and the bush of the gorge itself, has a covering of a mixed podocarp forest that includes sphagnum moss, mountain and silver beech as well as totara and matai.

''Both the gorge and the island are home to rare and nearly extinct insect species, protected on the island from rat predation by the swift waters of the river,'' Mr Dacker says.

''Beaumont's fortunes have fluctuated over the years according to major changes in the economic, gold-mining and agricultural history of the province.''

First the search for gold, then the arrival of the railways and the rise of horticulture on the river flats of Central Otago followed by the development of exotic forest plantations in the Blue Mountains all contributed to its growth.

But, subsequently, the closure of the railway branch line, the decline in gold extraction, the rise of large land holdings, changes in the horticultural sector, and finally the closure of the Beaumont Forest headquarters had also contributed to the community shrinking.

Closures of the railway, shops, the race track, churches and the school had all followed ''but always a significant minority clung on'' and many people, including some who had left, showed ''a remarkable dedication to the area'', Mr Dacker said.

And he emphasises that, for the first time in 40 years, there were ''signs of growth at Beaumont again''.
Margaret Healy, who helped organise a series of ''Back to Beaumont'' days, held over the years, has always been optimistic about the township's future.

''The aim is to get people and their families to come back to their grassroots, reminisce and enjoy Beaumont,'' she said.

It was a great place to raise a family and she was keen for Beaumont to become a ''thriving community'' again.

• Beaumont is a township on State Highway 87, at a crossing of the Clutha Mata-Au River, close to Central Otago, between Balclutha and Roxburgh, and is 6km southeast from Raes Junction.
• The township is one of the main entry and exit points on the 73km-long Clutha Gold Trail, between Lawrence and Roxburgh.
• The gold trail's development was backed by $3.8 million in New Zealand Cycle Trail project funding and was opened by Prime Minister John Key in October.
• The trail includes parts of an old Maori trail, sections of the former railway line route, and parts of a former road.
• An earlier proposal in 1992 by ECNZ was to build a dam at Tuapeka Mouth that would have flooded several thousand hectares, including all of Beaumont.


Clyde Dam Highly Problematic

Since the filling of the Dunstan reservoir behind the Clyde dam was completed in 1993, the Clyde dam controversy has faded in the minds of most New Zealanders. But the woes of the last 'think big' project have not gone away. Despite extensive and costly mitigation measures, issues remain regarding gorge instability, faultlines, and reservoir sediment build-up.

The Cairmuir-Dunstan Fault cuts across the gorge just above the dam, and the River Channel Fault disects the dam and the powerhouse. The discovery of the River Channel Fault came as a surprise to dam workers, who uncovered the micro-fractured rock running in a wide band along the riverbed. Obviously, fissured rock is not suitable for dam foundations. The first solution was to pump vast amounts of slurry concrete into the fault, but concerns mounted over the extent and depth of the faultline, and the likely futility of 'dental' concrete.

Finally, experts were called in to determine the extent of the fault issue. It was calculated that the River Channel Fault was 12-15km deep. This lead to a dam re-design in 1982 (during which a sluice channel was omitted leading to later modifications that reduced the dam's MW output by one-third). Subsequent investigations carried out by a team of some 40 geologists revealed serious instability issues throughout the gorge. The result was an incredibly expensive gorge stabilization programme, costing $936 million dollars (2005 value), resulting in the total cost of the project blowing-out to $1.4-1.8 billion dollars. The exact cost is unavailable or unknown, suggesting the true cost could be even higher.

There was considerable doubt over whether or not the dam would be safe, but in the end the government of the day, under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, refused to admit that the project had been botched, and it was finished, complete with a controversial 'slip-joint' to accommodate earthquakes up to, supposedly, 7 on the Richter Scale.

The 'slip-joint' was hailed as an engineering achievement, but one of New Zealand's most respected geo-technical scientists at the time, Gerald Lensen, insisted that it was designed incorrectly, because the River Channel Fault is 'tensional' (pulling apart) and not 'lateral' (slipping sideways). Needless to say, this fact has been kept quiet ever since.

Now, according to GNS scientists, the 'big one' is overdue along the Alpine Fault (bigger than the 7.8 Fiordland quake in July 2009). Meantime, the 6,500 measuring and monitoring stations quietly observe the landslide movements, reduced but not stopped, and visible silting up continues in the Kawarau Arm at an alarming rate estimated to be 1.46 million cubic metres per year, building up the reservoir bed profile by an estimated 1.85m annually.

The Decline of Large Hydro

In the 21st century, energy that is "renewable" is defined as energy from a source that is both naturally replenishing and environmentally safe and sustainable. The term “new” renewable energy has also been used to define the latest wave of renewable technologies that are truly environmentally sustainable.

By such standards, hydropower over 10 MW is no longer considered renewable because the negative impacts of large hydropower outweigh the so-called renewable benefits, which have inherent limitations.

In New Zealand, we are told that to maintain our present society and standard of living we need a minimum increase in power availability of 2.5% per annum (peak power), with 170 MW of new generation added each year. Based on this figure, we would need the equivalent of one Luggate dam (86 MW) every 6 months, or one Tuapeka dam (350 MW) every 25 months, or another Clyde dam (432 MW) every 29 months. Clearly, this is not a credible long-term solution.

World-wide, large hydropower declined in the 1990s because of mounting opposition that culminated in the World Commission on Dams report (2000), which acknowledged that large dams do not meet best practice guidelines in the water and energy sector. The global recession spurred more large dam projects, especially in developing countries, but the tide has turned and large hydro is again in decline as new renewable technologies sweep the world.

The intrinsic problems associated with large dams have long been glossed over. Hydroelectricity is often falsely promoted as cheap and reliable. While the operating costs of hydroelectric dams can be relatively low, their construction costs are extremely high, running into the billions of dollars for major projects. They are also prone to cost overruns. The WCD (World Commission on Dams, 2000) found that on average dams cost 56% more than forecast. And 55% of the hydroelectric projects studied by the WCD generated less power than planners promised.

New Zealand's Clyde dam is an obvious example of disastrous cost overruns. According to the public record, the 1982 winning bid from the joint venture of W. Williamson & Co. of Christchurch and Ed. Zublin AG of Stuttgart, was $102.6 million. Ten years later when the dam began producing power, the cost had climbed to $1.4 – 1.8 billion. Conversely, the planned generation of 612 MW had fallen to an actual capacity of 432 MW.

Typically, construction and mitigation costs are under-estimated, long-term costs are ignored, the value of the proposed dam and mitigation measures are inflated, while the value of the current and potential benefits from the existing environment are under-reported.

The proponents of large dams also invariably claim that large hydropower is "green" energy. However, the carbon footprint of a large-scale hydro project is anything but "green". A comparative study at the University of Auckland found that large hydro has a full-life carbon footprint that is 2.5 times larger than that of tidal energy.

A similar comparative study in the U.K. found that in terms of grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity generated, large hydro in the U.K. comes in with a carbon footprint 2 to 6 times larger than that of wind power. Specifically, large hydro has been measured at 10-30gCO2eq/kWh while wind has been measured at only 4.64gCO2eq/kWh, the lowest except for nuclear (Carbon Footprint of Electricity Generation, 2006).

It is easy to understand why large dams rate so poorly. For example, the Clyde dam contains 1 million cubic metres of concrete, equivalent to about 3 million tonnes. Manufacturing one tonne of cement requires 4.7 million BTU’s of energy, which is the amount contained in about 170 litres of oil or 190 kilograms of coal. Obviously, this combined with emissions from machinery involved in earthworks for foundations, roading, terrain forming, landslide mitigation, and through the loss of river corridor carbon sink forests or vegetation, adds up to an enormous carbon footprint.

There are over 54,000 large dams in the world, some 5,000 of which are over 50 years old. The typical design-life of such dams is 80 years, and an increasing number of old dams are being classified as high risk. It is a telling fact that more dams are being decommissioned than built in the U.S., but dam owners typically avoid decommissioning issues and try to evade the considerable costs associated with dam removal and river restoration. This scenario points to a looming dam safety crisis.

In the past, the benefits of large dams were viewed as outweighing their obvious short and long-term environmental impacts. That has changed.

Large hydropower once represented the epitome of 20th Century technology and a passport to prosperity, projecting a misguided belief that Nature could be controlled without consequences. In the 21st Century, we face a new reality, for which 20th Century energy solutions are unacceptable.

Roxburgh Dam Decommissioning?

The Roxburgh dam was commissioned in 1956, and it is New Zealand's oldest concrete gravity dam. Such dams have a design lifespan of 80-100 years, but the actual lifespan of a dam depends on the rate at which its reservoir fills with sediment. Assessing the remaining life of a dam and reservoir is complex, but reservoir flooding events indicate that time is running out.

When other issues are added to the picture, questions must be asked.

The Roxburgh dam - like the Clyde dam, has faultine and landslide issues that are potentially catastrophic (something which has been kept quiet). However, when the Roxburgh dam was built, there was minimal geotechnical investigation and mitigation undertaken, despite obvious evidence of major landslides in the Roxburgh Gorge, notably at Island Basin.

But reservoir sedimentation is the most problematic issue. In fact, within 15 years of the dam's commissioning, the dam's two low level sluice gates were inoperable, and since then the silt burden has filled much of the Roxburgh reservoir reaching back to Alexandra. In 1995, ECNZ estimated that 1.5 million cubic metres of silt had entered the Roxburgh reservoir every year before the Clyde dam was built, and that a total 50 million cubic metres of silt had accumulated in the reservoir, raising the bed profile 'considerably'. Attempts to 'flush' the silt have had little effect, and have not reversed this process. This is probably because of the 'Gates of the Gorge,' a narrow bottleneck just below Alexandra.

As a result, Alexandra has become flood-prone, and has installed flood defence walls along the river. But even these will not be high enough to prevent future flooding, because the riverbed will gradually keep rising. It was thought that by building the Clyde dam that this sedimentation problem would be largely solved, but some silt still gets through to continue choking the reservoir and river, and the Manuherikia River still contributes silt when it is high.

Efforts continue to "buy time" for the Roxburgh dam. More "flushing" will only move some of the sediment load further toward the dam. (Flushing has failed to remove sediment wherever it has been tried, including on the Colorado.) Physically removing millions of cubic metres of sediment is not practicable because of the costs involved. An interim measure is to remove some sediment from the Manuherikia confluence, and also from the Galloway area, but this does not address the major constriction at the 'Gates of the Gorge.'

The most desperate strategy is to raise the operating level of the Roxburgh reservoir, and this was done in 2009 when a rise of .6m was consented. While this allows water to reach the dam more easily, it also increases the risks associated with flooding events, both at Alexandra and the dam. In the life cycle of a dam, this is the "Russian roulette phase."

The dam owners and the Crown must face up to the fact that the Roxburgh dam and reservoir will not last forever, and that enormous risks are imposed on communities in the meantime. A feasibility study is needed to determine the most effective decommissioning and de-silting methodology. Where such dam removal projects have been undertaken overseas, the costs as a proportion of construction, range from 35% to 150%.

However, since there has been no provision for the ultimate decommissioning of the Roxburgh dam (typical of the hydropower industry), there is something of a head-in-the-sediment policy on this issue.

Questions should be asked, including the most difficult question of all ... when the time comes to decommission the dam, who will pay?
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