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Permit secures future of mine and Snails

12 April 2006

Wildlife Permit secures future of mine and Powelliphanta snail population

Coal producer, Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd, has welcomed today’s decision by the Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister of Energy granting a Wildlife Permit for the Mt Augustus area of the Stockton as a good outcome that both secures the future of the opencast mine and gives the best possible chance of survival for the Powelliphanta snail population on the site.

Solid Energy Chief Executive Officer, Dr Don Elder, says: “This is excellent news. We can now work towards meeting our contracted customer orders for this high quality coking coal. At the same time we can secure the best possible outcome for the threatened snail population by moving them to an area of suitable habitat, subject to stringent predator control, as we recognise that much of their existing habitat has been lost and mining has largely isolated what is left.”

Dr Elder adds: “In granting the permit we note that the Ministers have imposed extremely strict conditions. Solid Energy is committed to meeting these. Following discussion on the details with the Department of Conservation (DOC), we will begin relocating by hand the snail population to an area north of Mt Augustus. The snail habitat will then be moved by a method called direct transfer to an adjacent site. The relocation and direct transfer sites will be subject to ongoing predator control measures.

“Over the last 18 months Solid Energy has put considerable time, effort and expertise into developing plans to meet the environmental sensitivities and the technical challenges of mining the Stockton ridgeline. We engaged a number of scientific experts in their field to support our application for the Wildlife Permit.

“Today’s decision supports the conclusions of these experts. This includes strong evidence that Powelliphanta land snails have previously been moved successfully away from their original populations, sometimes over large distances (more than 200 km), wide altitudinal ranges (high to low) and into significantly different habitats. Although most of these translocations have been unauthorised there have been at least seven known successful translocations of Powelliphanta snails within New Zealand over some years.

“Our experts have concluded that moving the snails in the Mt Augustus area by hand is both “feasible and desirable” for the conservation of the species. This is based on the success of other known translocations, the availability of appropriate habitat nearby and that the snails can be protected by ongoing predator control or exclusion (a fence). Even if mining is not carried out, the snail population is already vulnerable given the restricted size of the population, the small area of optimal habitat, offset effects of development in the area and the ongoing threat of predators.”

Technical Solutions: Over the last two to three years Solid Energy has rescheduled production at Stockton and delayed mining along the ridgeline while it has carried out extensive technical work to determine how to mine the ridgeline safely and without impacting neighbouring DOC land. About 5 million tonnes of high-quality coking and other coal is located along the Stockton ridgeline within Solid Energy’s Coal Mining Licence area, just under half in the Mt Augustus area. The coal at Mt Augustus, valued at about $400 million, is needed to blend and raise the specifications of lower quality coal in other parts of the site to meet customer orders.

The technical solutions specifically designed for mining along the Stockton ridgeline, at a cost of more than $30 million, include:

- Specialised blasting techniques engineered to control vibration and minimise ground movement.

- Stabilising blocks at the top of the slope prior to blasting.

- Water management designed to ensure drainage of run-off back into the mine

- Detailed slope and environmental monitoring programmes.

In addition to these controls, rock fall protection barriers will be erected in places on the coal floor. During mining, bench cuts will be constructed on the down slope, where the terrain allows, to contain loose rocks and provide a path for any water to run back into the Stockton mine site. Monitoring equipment has been installed along the area. Mining along the ridgeline, which covers a number of mining blocks, including Mt Augustus is planned to be carried out for up to five years and will secure the jobs of about 380 Solid Energy staff and contractors who work at Stockton.

Solid Energy Plans: Solid Energy applied to the Department of Conservation in August 2005 for a permit to move Powelliphanta snails by hand from mining areas where snails had been found (11 hectares). As the result of High Court proceedings in December 2005, Solid Energy amended that application to add “direct transfer” of their habitat as well.

The permit conditions require Solid Energy to move up to 250 snails to a similar habitat as close as possible to the source location. Solid Energy will carry out intensive predator control of this area and the existing habitat that will not be mined. It will construct a predator proof fence around the relocation area, fund a captive management programme and survey the surrounding environment to locate other possible areas of habitat for Powelliphanta snails.

As much of the snail habitat as possible, including intact soil and vegetation, will be transferred to an area adjacent to the relocation site by precise excavation (called "direct transfer"). Solid Energy has pioneered the direct transfer technique at Stockton Mine with good success to date. Translocation and direct transfer have both recently been approved by the Environment Court as acceptable methods for the nearby Cypress Mine.

ENDS

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