While the Waimea Community Dam hit a significant milestone last month with the completion of the Culvert, there are still ‘big risks’ ahead for the project.

Waimea Water CEO Mike Scott says that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented some significant risks for the project, including getting specialist technicians into the country to operate machinery.

“We are able to get the machines that we need here, but not the drivers.”

Mike says that the project is at ‘the mercy of Wellington.’

“If we don’t get that support to get technicians into the country it will threaten the cost and schedule of the project,” he says.

“These guys build spillways around the world, they’re experts, and we need specialist. New Zealand just doesn’t have them, because we haven’t built a dam in 25 years,” Mike says.

The technicians are needed for the project in November, but Mike says Waimea Water is struggling to work with central government to get them into the country.

“If there is a prolonged delay it will hurt us.”

The $129.4m project has already suffered significant delays because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. The Culvert, which began diverting the river on September 2, began construction in November 2019, it was meant to be completed in March.

“The water was in the culvert 5 and a half months late – a reasonable chunk of that is Covid delays, and we also started later than we anticipated, and the culvert took a bit longer,” says Mike.  

“Right now, we are seeing the project six months late.”

Now that the river has been diverted into the Culvert, work Is able to begin on the rest of the Dam.

Mike says that there are still several risks when it comes to geology, with pressures around the plunge pool. Mike says that if the rock found was weak argillite and not sandstone, there would be issues. 

“By the end of the summer we will have a better feel for the risks and the cost to complete is,” he says. 

Tasman Mayor Tim King says that he is optimistic and hopes that council will be able to work with central government to get skilled technicians into the country.

“Anything that has the potential to add cost is a concern for us. Both Waimea Water and council have had chats with the Government,” Tim says.

Tim says that he personally raised the matter with Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi when he was in Nelson last week. 

“I did take that up with the immigration minister, and they’ve been really supportive,” he says.

“We are having constructive conversations with the Government, and obviously they are dealing with lots of different industries, but we remain optimistic,” Tim says. 

A spokesperson from Minister Faafoi’s office said that the Minister was aware of the concerns regarding the Waimea Dam, and “understand that Immigration NZ has engaged with people associated with the project.”

The Minister also says that minor changes made to immigration instructions regarding assessment of ‘other critical worker’ category border exception applications may offer Waimea Water an opportunity to bring their specialist staff to New Zealand as critical workers.

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