Rain radar delayed by forest sale

Wednesday 16 Jan 2019

The fate of the preferred site for a Dunedin rain radar is tied to a major international acquisition of Otago forestry blocks - In August it was confirmed construction of the facility had been delayed until 2020, after the MetService’s preferred site - about 40km southwest of Dunedin - was sold for the third time.

Negotiations with the new owners were ongoing, but neither the owners’ identity nor the exact location of the site had been revealed.

The delay has already prompted the Dunedin City Council to vote to lobby MetService for a speedy resolution.

The move followed concerns, expressed by DCC and Otago Regional Council representatives, that the lack of a rain radar meant Dunedin had a "significant gap" in weather information.

That made it difficult to confirm whether some rivers had peaked during storm events, including during last year’s November flooding.

However, a series of emails released to the Otago Daily Times by Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran confirmed the site was tied up in a major international forestry acquisition.

One email, between MetService staff in June last year, said the preferred radar site was on coastal hills to the east of Milton owned by the Rohatyn Group. The Rohatyn Group, a specialised asset management firm with offices in North and South America, England, Asia and New Zealand, had since announced the sale of its assets in the area in August. It sold its ownership of the Otago Land Company - which owned 22,500ha of forestry land across Otago - as well as its 38% stake in Wenita Forest Products. Both were acquired by New Forests’ Australia New Zealand Fund 2, in a deal approved by the Overseas Investment Office and suggested to be worth "well over $100 million", the ODT reported at the time.

When contacted, a New Forests spokeswoman said the company was "not in a position to comment on the matter".

Wenita continued to operate on the land covered by the acquisition, as well as land it owned directly, but chief executive David Cormack declined to comment on the rain radar.

MetService chief executive Peter Lennox told Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull last month the organisation remained "extremely keen" to advance the project.

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