With great enthusiasm, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council last week "received" the staff report recommending the "feasibility" of the $600 million CHB water storage scheme.
Councillors' questioning of the staff/consultant cadre of presenters was well shy of penetrating - not even remotely skeptical.
With so much at stake, one would assume councillors might have done enough homework to ask a challenging question or two.
But no such luck from this band. As Green MP Eugenie Sage remarked to the council that day, the council has clearly decided it is in the economic development business, setting aside its primary environmental protection duties.
Not a single question was asked about the substantially increased level of nutrients - 25 per cent more nitrogen and 20 per cent more phosphorus under HBRC's optimistic assumptions - that will be dumped into the river if farming intensifies.
Nor about the adequacy of measures staff and consultants claim will be adopted by 100 per cent of farmers in the scheme to mitigate that damage.
Not a word about the recent precedent-setting Environment Court decision on the Horizon Regional Council's One Plan, which will require far more stringent protection of waterways as farming intensifies.
Not a word about the fact that no environmental leader in Hawke's Bay is yet prepared to support the dam.
Five of us who have served on the stakeholders' consultation group made our concerns crystal clear to council.
However, environmental concerns are simply a nuisance to this council; environmental leaders - who have examined the scheme far more closely than any councillor - are dismissed as uninformed and/or misguided. Or, as HBRC CEO Andrew Newman has put it, environmentalists have no skin in the game.
You probably noticed above that I italicised "if farming intensifies". That's because the council, after two-plus years of "consultation", cannot produce a single farmer in the footprint of the proposed irrigation scheme, with accountant and banker in tow, who actually wants to buy in.
If the dam is such a red hot idea, where is the petition from potentially affected and passionate farmers insisting: "We beg you to build the dam".
Yet the consultants advise that "farmer uptake" is the key factor in the plan's economic viability.
Did any councillor ask about the "farmer uptake" situation? Of course not.
That's the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.
Who will own this white elephant if CHB farmers don't buy in?
Inconsistencies and challengeable assumptions abound in the feasibility report. But councillors are blissfully unaware and thus unbothered.
For example, councillor Ewan McGregor asked the HBRC's financial adviser why horticulture and viticulture were not included on the list of land uses that the bankers consider financially viable under the scheme.
He was told those activities simply didn't return enough profit to make the cut.
However, the background report on new jobs promised by the scheme attributes about half of those jobs to horticulture and viticulture. Huh? However woolly their projections, the consultants might at least get on the same page for appearances sake.
More examples abound.
Meantime, the council has distracted the public with its propaganda masterpiece, Tukituki Choices, which is even more flawed than the feasibility study as a public consultation tool. That unbalanced document and its four "scenarios" are not worth comment.
Ratepayers should focus instead on the dam feasibility study, available on the HBRC website. Read it. And ask yourself a simple question: if you could invest $600 million to better Hawke's Bay's future, would you roll the dice on a single dam in Central Hawke's Bay?
When your reading leaves you with more questions than answers, communicate your concerns directly to councillors.
Insist upon more time to understand the full implications of this $600 million proposal. As it stands, you have only until October 15 to speak up. Otherwise councillors will ratify the project on October 31.
In fact, insist that this decision is too monumental to be made in four weeks by nine councillors.
It's a decision about fundamental community values and direction that should be made by the people, by referendum, after the council completes the needed homework and fleshes out key aspects of its plan that are now far too vague.
Tom Belford is a member of the Water Storage Stakeholders Group