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Forest and Bird Dismayed by Pike Mine Decision

March 12, 2004 - Wellington


Forest and Bird Dismayed by Pike Mine Decision

Forest and Bird is dismayed by Conservation Minister Chris Carter's decision to approve access for the controversial Pike coal mine despite a substantial Departmental report critical of the mine's impacts.

"The decision goes against detailed technical advice from Department of Conservation staff about the habitat destruction, water pollution and subsidence and land slip risks associated with the mine," Forest and Bird field officer Eugenie Sage said.

"The Minister is responsible for upholding and implementing both the National Parks and the Conservation Acts. His decision shows a lack of commitment to the natural values and integrity of conservation lands which these Acts require him to protect."

"Trading these values for a meagre $70,000 annually in predator control is just not a good outcome."

"The Paparoa National Park, Saxon Ecological Area, and conservation land around the Pike Stream and on the crest of the Paparoa Range were set aside for their distinctive ecological, landscape and recreational values. The mine will destroy or degrade these values," she said.

"It will turn the wild and remote character of the Pike Valley forests into an industrial zone, reduce flows in Pike Stream and pollute the stream and Big River. It will compromise the dramatic escarpment which forms the boundary of Paparoa National Park and risk subsidence and slumping along the escarpment."

"Pike River Coal Company's lack of mining experience, and the landslides, subsidence, fires, and severe water pollution associated with other West Coast coal mines means Forest and Bird has no confidence in the Company or the Minister's claims about the mine having minimal impacts.

"The Minister's decision suggests a narrow preoccupation with jobs and regional development regardless of the environmental cost. The Labour Party policy of "economic growth that is sustainable and in harmony with our unique environment"[1] <> appears to have little real meaning."

"The requirements of conservation legislation are very different from the Resource Management Act. Economic impacts are not a relevant matter for the Minister of Conservation to consider when making decisions on mining access under the Conservation, National Parks and Crown Minerals Acts.

"As there is no formal public consultation process regarding these decisions, the Minister should at least listen to his own Department's strong advice against the mine. Sadly, the Minister's decision makes little sense."

Notes to media

Mine access road - Pike Valley

The Minister's claim that the Pike mine access road will be along an "existing partially formed road" overstates the case. The formation for a logging track in the 1970s has collapsed and it is now of walking track width. The proposed mine access road on conservation land up the Pike Valley is around 8 kilometres long, not 3.6 kilometers as the Minister claims. A significant section of it crosses conservation land formerly held by Timberlands West Coast to which Timberlands had earlier granted PRCC access. It is misleading to omit this section of the road from the description of conservation land affected.

Environment Court appeals yet to be determined

Environment Court appeals by the Department of Conservation against West Coast councils' decisions on Pike River Coal Company (PRCC's) 1999 consent applications have yet to be heard or determined. These include appeals on discharge permits central to the acid mine drainage issue.

It is important that DoC pursue those appeals to tighten any resource consent conditions.

The PRCC received resource consents from West Coast councils in 1999. The Department of Conservation (DoC) appealed those decisions to the Environment Court, based on inadequate information about the mine and its impacts. Forest and Bird is involved in these appeals as an interested party.

The decisions appealed against include the West Coast Regional Council's decision to grant discharge permits for the coal dewatering plant relevant to acid mine drainage, a major potential impact of the mine.

Changes to the proposal saw the company reapply for a suite of new consents in 2002 to replace some of the 1999 applications. West Coast councils granted these new consent applications in May 2003. PRCC has appealed the consent conditions. PRCC has not formally withdrawn its 1999 consent applications so all DoC's 1999 appeals are still current. PRCC does not "have its resource consents" until the Environment Court has determined the appeals or the appeals are withdrawn.

West Coast council's Commissioners noted in their 23 May 2003 decision (on the 2002 applications) at para 102:

"It is our understanding that the question of possible discharge of Acid Mine Drainage into the environment will be the principal issue to be debated by the parties in respect of the discharge consents previously granted (1999) by the West Coast Regional Council and that are subject to appeal to the Environment Court. We were quite satisfied after hearing the evidence that AMD is a significant and important issue and must be addressed by PRCC in an appropriate manner. No doubt this will be an issue that the Environment Court will tackle with its usual energy and thoroughness."

The Environment Court has not heard either the 1999 or 2003 appeals. The parties believed it sensible to await the Minister's decision on access.

Minister ignores Departmental advice

The Department of Conservation's advice in a Conservancy Mining Report (19 December 2003) was that the mine was inconsistent with the objectives of the National Parks and Conservation Acts [the purposes for which the land is held] and the Paparoa National Park and North Westland Regional Management Plans.

The Department also had "serious concerns in relation to the potential long term adverse effects after the completion of mining operations and whether the Department can protect against significant losses." These adverse effects include acid mine drainage water quality issues, permanent adverse effects as a result of subsidence and uncertainty about the success of rehabilitation and the hundreds of years required to reinstate values (See Conservancy Mining Report 19 December 2003 at p 89).


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