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Statement To Reefton Public Meeting - Lee

21 August 2001
Statement To Reefton Public Meeting On 21 August 2001 By Conservation Minister Sandra Lee


As Conservation Minister, I am entrusted with responsibility of New Zealand's conservation lands on behalf of the public. These lands have been set aside as national parks, conservation parks and reserves for the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources and for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public. When these lands are protected a conscious decision is made that they will be managed in such a way that the conservation values are maintained.

The Victoria Conservation Park is one of New Zealand's outstanding natural areas. Its native forests and landscapes form a magnificent backdrop to Reefton and the surrounding district. The forests also provide important sites for recreation for local people and for visitors to your region. These forests and their dependent wildlife are also immensely valuable for biodiversity conservation. A number of threatened species are present that are rare or absent in many parts of New Zealand. I have no doubt that most people at this meeting tonight would agree that the Victoria Conservation Park is an immensely important conservation and recreation asset for Reefton and the West Coast generally.

I am aware that the community has worked closely and cooperatively with the Department of Conservation over the years in the promotion of the park and its visitor attractions.

Under the Crown Minerals Act I must have regard to the effect of mining on these conservation values.

The Act set out very specific criteria in Section 61 (2) that any landholding minister must have regard to when considering an access agreement for Crown land.

These are:

The objectives of the act under which the land is administered which in this case is the Conservation Act. I am of the clear view that the application contradicts the objectives of the Act.

The purpose for which the land is held by the Crown. The proposed extension of the mine would cover part of an amenity area and part of a wildlife management area. These specially protected areas were gazetted by the previous National administration. The Conservation Act requires amenity areas to be managed to protect their indigenous, natural and historic resources, and the wildlife management area must be managed to protect the wildlife and the wildlife habitat. I have come to the conclusion that the impacts on these areas are too great.

The management plan for the area which in this case is the North Westland Regional Management Plan. That plan seeks to protect areas of historic value.

I have also had to consider the adequacy of the safeguards against the potential adverse effects of the mining. The application sought to increase the amount of material being mined to 120 million tonnes. It would require two large tailings impoundments with rock residues containing arsenic and other poisonous heavy metals, and two large rock stacks one of which is 200 metres high. These structures would have to be permanently sealed to prevent them leaking heavy metals into the surrounding environment. The massive 275 metre deep pit may be left as a lake with potential long-term contamination of water quality.

These structures represent a massive intrusion into the conservation park. The management of the risks associated with these structures would rest with the company while the mine was operative and for 10 years after its closure. From then on it would be the responsibility of the taxpayer and the local ratepayer. Those risks may be low but they are real as the $20 million that was spent to remedy the impacts of the GoldenCross/Waitekauri mine on the Coromandel has demonstrated. They are not risks that I wish to incur on behalf of the future generations that would have to manage them.

While there will be people who will be disappointed in my decision, I can assure you it was made after careful consideration of a comprehensive report on the proposal by the department and by its technical consultants. I also considered the company's comments on those reports. My decision has been made in accordance with the requirements of the Crown Minerals Act. It is a decision I stand by.


Sandra Lee
Minister of Conservation


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