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Enviro Court “no jurisdiction” in snail relocation

15 December 2006

Environment Court “no jurisdiction” in snail relocation

Solid Energy has welcomed today’s Environment Court decision which confirms that the company has all the necessary consents and permissions required to capture and relocate native land snails on the ridgeline of Stockton Opencast Mine in the Buller and to undertake coal mining within the Stockton Coal Mining Licence (CML) area.

“This absolutely confirms what we have said all along. We are acting legally and have all the authorities and consents we need to mine at Stockton,” says Solid Energy Chief Executive Officer, Dr Don Elder. “While we feel vindicated by the Court’s finding, we are disappointed with some of the comments included in the Court’s decision.

The Court was unaware of a recent survey for Solid Energy by Colmar Brunton which found that about 85% of New Zealanders think that the Ministerial decision allowing Solid Energy to collect and relocate the snails was either reasonable or that the company should not have been required to make any allowances for the snails at all.

“We also need to be clear that this, along with the recent judicial review of the Ministerial decision, was an unnecessary action. These are just frivolous tactics by Save Happy Valley Coalition, designed less to protect the environment than to frustrate and disrupt our business and to cost us substantial money. Their ongoing activities opposing our business fly in the face of the views held by most New Zealanders.”

Solid Energy is operating at Mt Augustus under strict conditions imposed by the Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister of Energy in granting the Wildlife Permits to collect and relocate the snails. To date more than 1600 snails have been collected from the Stockton ridgeline area and most are now being kept in a controlled environment at the Department of Conservation in Hokitika. Forty snails were released back into the wild at Stockton earlier this month. Experts have now concluded that the snail population is much greater than initially estimated and is likely to exceed 5,000.

“Clearly the views of SHVC experts’ in opposing Solid Energy’s relocation and protection activities were based on a no-risk approach,” says Dr Elder. “Solid Energy, on the other hand, has acknowledged the risk and is spending millions of dollars to mitigate this as far as possible while still accessing the valuable coal resource. The Ministers, in granting the permits, have endorsed that approach.”

Solid Energy’s expert animal ecologist, Dr John McLennan gave evidence in Court that, like many of our ancient endemic species, these land snails are now entirely dependent on human intervention for their long-term survival due in the main to impact of predators. Dr McLennan told the Court: “The conditions of the wildlife permits and the protocols that Solid Energy has developed to meet them, should ensure that the Mt Augustus snail has a high chance of persisting long term.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. Save Happy Valley Coalition alleged in the Environment Court that Solid Energy required land use consents to mine within the Coal Mining Licence area (CML) and for adjacent Department of Conservation land and that it did not have necessary water-related consents to cover certain activities.

2. Solid Energy was granted Wildlife Permits by the Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister of Energy in February and April 2006 to move the snails by hand and to carry out direct transfer of the snail habitat to an area which will not be mined. Under the April permit, Solid Energy is required to find at least 250 snails from across the permit area after handing over 50 snails to the Department of Conservation for a Solid Energy-funded captive breeding programme.

3. The Stockton Coal Mining Licence (CML) was granted to Solid Energy in 1987 for a period of 40 years, following the decision by the Crown to sell part of the assets of State Coal Mines to Coal Corporation of New Zealand Ltd, as Solid Energy was then known. Solid Energy has exclusive rights to mine coal over the 2310 hectares of the licence area.

4. The court upheld Solid Energy’s understanding which is consistent with practice adopted by other holders of coal mining licences and mining licences and confirmed by the Buller District and Regional Councils, that the CML is a code and that no land use consents are required for mining activities. This principle has been established by settled case law. Solid Energy holds a number of resource consents for various water diversions and discharges associated with the mine.

5. A SHVC judicial review of the Ministerial decision to grant the Wildlife Permits was rejected by the Wellington High Court in a decision released on 8 December.

6. A Colmar Brunton survey for Solid Energy in November 2006 found 68% of New Zealanders thought that it was reasonable for the Minister to grant wildlife permits to collect and relocate the snails. Of those who did not, the majority thought that it was a waste of money or that the snails were not important.

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