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Report reveals Pike coal mine should not proceed

DoC report reveals Pike coal mine should not proceed

A Department of Conservation (DoC) report obtained under the Official Information Act reveals that the controversial proposed Pike River coal mine is inconsistent with conservation legislation and would degrade an important and almost pristine area.

Forest and Bird is calling on Conservation Minister Chris Carter to turn down the Pike River Coal Company's (PRCC) mining access application, to prevent unacceptable damage to Paparoa National Park and conservation land in the Paparoa Ranges.

"Creating New Zealand's second largest export coal mine adjacent to, and eventually under, Paparoa National Park would be a supreme environmental folly," said Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage.

"The Department's Conservancy Mining Report of 19 December 2003 is a thorough and responsible evaluation of the mine's impacts. It is based on the work of Departmental staff and independent geological and geochemical experts. It clearly shows that the proposed coal mine is inconsistent with both the Conservation and National Parks Acts and should be turned down," she said.

"The access road and mine facilities area would destroy forest habitat in the Pike valley. Mining would severely degrade the pristine Pike Stream and cause permanent water pollution problems from acid mine drainage. Underground mining would create a major risk of subsidence and landslips in the steep mountainous country in the headwaters of Pike Stream, and surface cracking and subsidence on the fringes of Paparoa National Park," she said.

"The only responsible course of action for the Minister is to accept his Department's advice and decline access given the permanent damage the mine would cause, and the ongoing water pollution and other problems after mining ends," Ms Sage said.

According to the DoC report, "PRCC's [Pike River Coal Company's] proposal would result in a significant industrial intrusion into a conservation area with natural resources of very high, if not pristine, value." (p 47, para 217)

The report also says "the Department holds serious concerns in relation to the potential long-term adverse effects which could occur after the completion of mining operations and whether the Department can protect against significant losses." (p 89).

The report concludes, "the proposed mining operations appear prima facie to be inconsistent with the purposes for which the land is held. While some of the potential adverse effects ...may, in some instances be safeguarded against by the imposition of appropriate conditions, including rehabilitation, and/or offset by the provisions of compensation, none of these either separately or collectively, seem likely to prevent some significant loss to natural resources." (p 59, para 267)

"West Coast coal mining has, and continues to cause, major environmental damage," Ms Sage said.

"Underground mining at Strongman mine near Greymouth has caused sizeable land slips at Ten Mile Creek, while the degraded Ngakawau River and Mangatini Stream highlight the water pollutions associated with Solid Energy's Stockton coal mine. The Pike mine would be no different. DoC's concerns are very well founded," Ms Sage said.

"The mine would vandalise the national park boundary by drilling four tunnels through the dramatic west-facing escarpment on the crest of the Paparoa Range. But that would be just the beginning. The company wants to mine for 20-30 years and has plans to mine under the park in five or six year's time. This would expose the headwaters of the Punakaiki River to subsidence and landslips."

"The area of the proposed mine is zoned 'Remote Experience.' The forests of the Pike valley, and the coal plateau and the crest of the Paparoa Range with their distinctive stunted vegetation and spectacular views, should be managed in a way that maintains their untouched, "natural state". The report shows mining would ruin the wilderness character of the area, " she said.

"There is no guarantee that any rehabilitation would be successful, especially in the Pike valley where the miners plan to dump 85,000 cubic metres of waste rock on the access road, mine facilities area and coal dewatering plant site. Even if rehabilitation was to succeed, DoC estimates that it would take centuries for equivalent forest to be replaced after mining ceased." (p 75, para 317)

"Saying "no" to the Pike mine would be sound conservation management," Ms Sage said.

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