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Access To Gold A Rising Issue For Angry Coasters

The meeting in Wellington tomorrow between mayors, Jim Anderton, Dr Michael Cullen and officials over Government's West Coast policies, now looks shaky following Conservation Minister, Sandra Lee's, refusal to grant earlier promised access to Crown land for gold mining. Scoop West Coast correspondent John Howard reports.

West Coast goldminers are dismayed that they are now being blocked from exercising mining licenses already purchased from the Crown which involve access to indigenous forests managed by Timberlands.

At an earlier meeting with West Coast mayors to discuss forestry issues, Dr Cullen and Mr Anderton gave assurances that access to Crown land would remain for gold and coal mining.

But Rhett Robinson from the Gold Room in Hokitika is one gold miner who has now felt the force of a quiet clamp-down on mining by the coaltion Government.

Mr Robinson said, "We had a meeting with Sandra Lee on March 15, she signed our application as declined on March 23, but we only received notification on Saturday, May 6."

The area concerned is devoid of trees and browsed by wild cattle. Alluvial mining takes place on the boundary.

"They call this a high class ecological area," Mr Robinson said.

He is not happy that access for gold mining has become intertwined with the Government's forestry policy.

Mr Robinson said he had stressed to Sandra Lee the importance of being able to obtain access to gold nuggets needed for the tourism and export industry by the Gold Room.

"Eight days was not much time for the Minister to spend on a decision that has ramifications for those who are and will be employed." he said.

Mr Robinson said the rules governing gold mining had reached absurd heights with an access agreements costing an additional $3,000, being a duplication of a mining license he already holds.

John Wood, the executive director of the West Coast Commercial Gold Miners' Association, said the Government's actions were causing "great anxiety" for miners.

He said it came as a "bombshell" when Mr Robinson's application had been declined along with another by gold miner, Bill Gardiner.

The gold mining areas were gazetted during the 1986 West Coast Accord process with Card Creek having a potential gold resource of $30 million.

Mr Wood said the mining industry faces huge problems now that the Government has signalled an intention to legislate the West Coast Accord out of existence.

"There is now to be no beech forestry scheme at all, yet equally it would appear these areas are to remain closed to exploration and mining." Mr Wood said.

"The Government now needed to spell out its intentions for the gold mining industry so that the economic impacts and job losses could be factored into any compensation payment," he said.

Mr Wood said if access is not available there will be further job losses in the mining industry in addition to those lost in forestry.

A recent 60 minutes television programme highlighted the problem and said there was around $80 billion worth of gold and other minerals in the ground which, if mined, could pay off New Zealand's entire national debt.

Meanwhile, a 4,000 signature petition to Parliament calling for an inquiry and socio-economic impact study into Government's West Coast forest policies was presented on Thursday.

The formal petition followed the same requests put to the Prime Minister after a rally of 5,000 people in Greymouth last month which were passed on to Finance Minister, Michael Cullen. The rally request and resolution has not been heard of since.

But Dr Cullen said on Friday that there will be no inquiry or socio-economic impact study. This has further angered Coaster's because theirs is a petition to Parliament not to Government. They now see Dr Cullen attempting to override what is a House of Representatives perogative. Coaster's say it is not Minister's personal play-thing.

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