An Ōhope man wants the council to loan him $10,000 to fly a water diviner over the district in a helicopter.
Admitting it sounds like a 'somewhat strange idea”, Neville Johnson has proposed the plan to find a source of artesian water for Whakatāne and Ōhope.
Mr Johnson spoke during the public forum of Whakatāne District Councill's environment, energy and resilience committee last week.
He believes the Otakiri aquifer, considered amongst the finest quality drinking water in New Zealand, can be accessed a lot closer to the Whakatāne township than the spring in Johnson Road, Otakiri, possibly by as much as 10 kilometres.
Mr Johnson has proposed the council loan him the money to hire Mount Maunganui-based water diviner Grant Birchall and hire a helicopter to fly him over the district.
He said Mr Birchall was able to divine water by flying over the land in a helicopter and was also able to detect the depth of the water.
Mr Birchall's website says he does this through his connection to the magnetic field surrounding the Earth, a gift he inherited from his father.
'He really does have this ability. I'm quite convinced of it,” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Johnson said he had been involved in the drilling industry, though water was not his primary interest - gold was.
'People have very different beliefs on water divining. However, I am probably in a position to judge whether Mr Birchall is a water diviner. I think there is no one in New Zealand who has spent as much money on diviners as I have.”
He invited the councillors to look at Mr Birchall's website, which shows testimonials from two drilling companies as well as a land adviser for Te Tumu Paeroa, the Office of the Māori Trustee, which administers about 1800 Māori land trusts.
'I firmly believe Grant Birchall has an extraordinary ability,” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Johnson said through a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request to Whakatāne District Council, he had learned that, in 2018, it had set aside a budget of $3.65 million to investigate a fresh water source for Whakatāne and Ōhope and as of December last year, had spent $2.3 million of that budget.
'So, there is just over $1.25 million of that budget left.”
He said if the council agreed to pay $10,000 to him, he would eventually repay that money when a 'certain project of mine comes off”.
He emphasised that this would be a loan. Any information he got from Mr Birchall would be handed over to the council as a gift and he would still owe them the $10,000.
Of this, $3000 plus gst would be Mr Birchall's fee while the rest would be used to hire a helicopter.
'This is an investment, not an expense,” he said.
Mayor Victor Luca said he felt Mr Johnson's objective was the same as the councils.
'To find good drinking water sources closer to town. I think we are all aware around this table that the township is completely dependent on a single water source, so that is a vulnerability,” Dr Luca said. That source being a river was also problematic, as there was potential for algal blooms and salt water intrusion among other issues.
"We've been looking at this subject for more than 20 years, the idea of bringing in good artesian water … The question is, how do you detect it. The council has spent quite a bit of money employing methods that are scientifically state of the art. With a company that has got quite a good track record.”
Councillor Lesley Immink asked Mr Johnson why the council would need to loan or invest $10,000 with him rather than going directly to Mr Birchall.
Mr Johnson said it was because Mr Birchall was opposed to working with councils as he had been 'dudded” by them in the past.
'Grant emphatically told me that he would not work for the council, but if I employed him he would.”
Mrs Immink said she was not opposed to investigating working with water diviners, but it would have been 'great to see some endorsements from other councils on his testimonials page”.
Councillor Tu O'Brien said he had, growing up, seen water diviners at work, first-hand, and believed it worked.
'I've seen them work, especially out on the Rangitaiki Plains. I'm interested.”
However, he also was unsure about the $10,000 investment Mr Johnson suggested.
Councillor Nandor Tanczos also indicated interest in the idea but said the arrangement Mr Johnson had made with Mr Birchall was not one he was 'particularly comfortable with”.
-Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.