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Conservationists lament Denniston mining decision

Published: 1:29PM Thursday May 23, 2013 Source: ONE News

As the mining community celebrates, conservationists are fuming over the Government's decision to give the go ahead to an open cast mine on the West Coast.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith confirmed this afternoon that Bathurst Resources has been given consent under the Crown Minerals Act to dig an open-cast mine on 106 hectares of the 2026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau.

Smith said that despite objections from environmental groups, the area does not have any significant conservation or reserve status.

"This area is not National Park, nor Conservation Park nor does it have any particular reserve status," said Smith.

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"It is general stewardship land, which is the lowest legal status of protection of land managed by the Department of Conservation."

Conservation groups have been fighting against the mine proposal since 2011.

Forest and Bird's Debs Martin was unimpressed with Smith's decision, asking: "If we don't have a Minister of Conservation protecting our conservation - who will?"

"This is public conservation land, this is the part we thought we'd done a deal on 20 years ago," she said.

West Coast Environmental Network spokeswoman Lynley Hargreaves said she could understand that the mining industry was worried about the future, but that the public should have been consulted before a decision on Denniston was made.

"They've made this decision on the last day possible before they'd have to make a public consultation," she said.

Economy boost

Bathurst Resources managing director Hamish Bohannan said the mine would employ around 225 people initially, eventually doubling to employ 450.

Half a million tonnes of high grade coal would be mined each year, he said.

"This is very high quality coal and here on the plateau. It's possible to make a healthy profit even in the current low prices," Bohannan said.

Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce said the mine would be "a significant injection into the economies of Buller, the West Coast and New Zealand".

The project aims to inject nearly $1 billion into the country's economy over the next six years.

As part of the agreement, Bathurst Resources will compensate for the loss of any values with a $22 million package.

But Martin says the money to fund conservation should come from taxpayers, "not from flogging off our natural treasures".

The package includes funding for pest and predator control over 25,000 hectares of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park, over 4500 hectares on and around the Denniston Plateau, as well as for historic projects on the Plateau itself.

"This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture," said Smith.

However, despite the access agreement, Smith added that he did not consider it acceptable to open-cast mine all of the Denniston Plateau.

"I wish to signal, that in giving this approval, I do not consider it is acceptable to open-cast mine all of the Denniston Plateau," he said.

"The plateau does have unique biodiversity and landscape values from its raised elevation, high rainfall and unusual land form. I wish to see some of the high value areas reserved and put into permanent protection."

Smith said he was satisfied that the comprehensive conditions of the consent covered the rehabilitation of the land, enhancement of water quality, health and safety, debris, rubbish and fire hazards, will minimise the adverse effects of the mine.

'Missed opportunity'

The decision to go ahead with the mine has been criticised by Labour as a missed opportunity.

Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson says the Government "overriding the process" meant conservation groups and the mining company did not have the opportunity to reach a compromise.

"There was a real possibility of a win-win for both sides that would have seen mining go ahead while other areas were protected for conservation purposes," she said.

"Labour wants to see an agreement reached where mining can go ahead, allowing for the creation of new jobs, but where precious land is also protected."

"While the compensation package from Bathurst is welcome, our laws and access to the conservation estate should never be dictated by money," said Dyson.