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Letter from Environment West Coast to Forest & Bird

3 July, 2013

Andrew Cutler

President

Forest and Bird

Level One, 90 Ghuznee Street

Wellington

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you today on behalf of Environment West Coast.

This group was formed in Westport in May as a result of a meeting of business owners concerned for our town’s future. This soon developed into a group that represents all of the West Coast communities.

While labelled a “pro mining lobby group” by some in the media, the reality is more complex.

We are concerned with the social, business and natural environments that are found here and, to that end, share many of the environmental concerns that your organisation has.

We recognised, at the outset, that organisations like Forest and Bird and the Department of Conservation have played a vital and necessary role in how this region’s resources will be accessed and/or protected and maintained. Indeed, the operational improvements made by companies like Solid Energy at Stockton have been welcomed and championed by those of us that have witnessed the advances made in this area over the past two decades.

We believe that the mining practices employed at Stockton are world leading and should be show-cased to the rest of the world as the standard all open cast mines should aspire to.

The West Coast people have long respected, enjoyed and lived with the ecology of our region and it is a testament to this that, of the fourteen National Parks in New Zealand: seven of these are either contained or bordered in this region.

I am sure that most of your membership would concur with our assessment that more needs to be done to maintain and improve the condition of our existing National Parks. Significant damage to vegetation and wildlife is occurring daily, due mostly to introduced pests and predators.

The land area held in trust by the Department of Conservation on the West Coast amounts to some 19,500 square kilometres and represents around 83% of our region. DOC funding has, in real terms, decreased over the past two decades and it is widely believed (by West Coasters) that they are struggling to properly maintain the more accessible areas of forest, and completely failing with the vast majority of the forests.

I believe there is an opportunity, going forward, for Environment West Coast and Forest and Bird to work collaboratively on future issues concerning the West Coast area. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns and work together for outcomes that result in positive gains for our forests, waterways and native fauna.

Considering all of the above, we are therefore perplexed by the on-going appeals against the Bathurst project at Denniston.

The project has been subject to robust scrutiny and debate: both within and without judicial processes. Bathurst, Crown Mineral Resources, the Department of Conservation, Solid Energy, the Historic Places Trust, Forest and Bird and Ecological Foundation executive director Guy Salmon held a series of negotiations reported in late April 2013.

While not privy to the outcome of those discussions, it seemed clear (after assessing Guy Salmon’s press release) that a compromise between viable mineable areas and those worthy of protection was likely. Local geologists have confirmed to us that much of the plateau would be uneconomic to mine and, as such, a large portion of the existing ecology could easily be excluded in perpetuity from ever being mined.

We suggest that now is the time for the outcome of those negotiations to be released so that our communities might better understand each organisation’s position.

At present, the reality on the West Coast is that we have stood proudly (and to a large degree, independently) as a region for over 140 years. We have seen our population slashed by a quarter since the 1970’s and many would say that, since this time, our most valuable resource and export has been our youth: leaving their place of birth for more opportunities and a more secure future.

At present, the uncertainty over the future of our communities is at an all-time high. Far from standing on our feet, many feel we are now on our knees.

Dr Nick Smith brokered what many consider a major concession with Bathurst Resources access agreements to Denniston. $22m to be used for pest and predator eradication in the Kahurangi National Park.

Our concern is that, if the appeal process drags out much longer, Bathurst may yet be convinced to walk away from the Denniston mine project.

The immediate effects of this would be that the $22m pledged for the Kahurangi would be lost and the future of Westport would be very bleak indeed.

Down-stream, other potential investors of projects like the re-opening of Pike River or Spring Creek may be influenced by Bathurst Resources’ experience and decide that business is more easily conducted elsewhere. This will have long-term catastrophic effects for the Grey district.

Oceana Gold has already indicated that their Globe Progress mine at Reefton is likely to close mid 2015 (affecting 250 workers – mostly based in Reefton), while Holcim NZ’s Cape Foulwind Cement plant near Westport has had an uncertain future for the past 5 years and its potential closure would affect around 110 Westport based workers.

Almost all of these companies engage Engineering and specialist contractor support from centres like Nelson and Christchurch and perhaps as many as 400 additional contracting positions are also threatened.

Without Solid Energy’s contribution to Kiwi Rail’s operations and profitability, both the Midland rail line and Port of Lyttelton are at risk, to say nothing of the TranzAlpine tourism train.

It may be that your executive has considered many of the effects of your continued appeals, and believe that the ends will justify the mean, but we hope this is not the case.

A future on the West Coast that results in a significant decline in population will, in our considered opinion, be detrimental in economic, social and ecological terms to, not only our region, but wider New Zealand.

Many of the issues that confront the ecology of the West Coast are man-made, but without the involvement of our communities they have a slim chance of being resolved.

Sure, tourists will continue to visit this area – but the vast majority of the “at risk” ecology is well away from those destinations. Our fear is that, without an actively involved local population and well-funded and supported local government structure, these areas will continue to decline as they remain out of sight.

So please: consider this a direct appeal from the people and communities of the West Coast.

Consider carefully the effects (whether intended or not) your current course of action will have.

Ideally, we would prefer the immediate withdrawal of your appeals to both the Environment Court and High Court.

We would be delighted to discuss this and any future issues directly with you and would encourage you to distribute this letter to your membership at the earliest opportunity – so that they may appreciate our point of view.

Yours sincerely,

Photo of Mark McIntyre and Brent Oldham with John Key yesterday.

ENDS

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