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Cypress mine site wetland values worth protecting

2 February 2006 - Wellington

Cypress mine site wetland values worth protecting

If State coalminer Solid Energy's proposed open cast Cypress mine proceeds, many significant conservation values will be lost, according to Forest and Bird.

"The proposed mine site has 13 endangered species including great spotted kiwi, a giant land snail Powelliphanta patrickensis, and vegetation and ecosystems that have been identified in a national survey process as requiring permanent protection," said Forest and Bird Conservation Manager, Kevin Hackwell.

"The Society's case against the original resource consents went to both the Environment Court and the High Court. While Forest and Bird accepts that the resource consents were eventually approved, the cases it took resulted in stronger environmental conditions for the mine's operation."

The most important of these is the condition set by the Environment Court that Solid Energy has to "direct transfer" some 12 hectares of the rare red tussock wetland to a specially prepared storage area for the many years it will take to mine the site. The mine site will then have to be rehabilitated before the stored wetland is "directly transferred" back.

This condition sets a very high threshold which has never been achieved before on the scale proposed for the Cypress mine.

Forest and Bird believes that Solid Energy should have to show that it is in fact possible to meet this condition before it is able to start mining.

"Having Solid Energy forfeit a bond if it can't keep its promise to protect the red tussock wetland will be a completely unsatisfactory environmental outcome and will not restore the lost habitat. If the transfer fails, the loss of the original wetland will be irreversible."

Note to media.

The difference between the Cypress and Mt Augustus mining issues.

Two proposed mining operations by Solid Energy on the large Stockton Plateau north east of Westport are in the news because of their environmental impacts. The two proposed mines are separate but both involve different species of giant land snail.

Mt Augustus
Mt Augustus is at the south western edge of the existing mining area at Stockton. It is part of the mountain ridge on the skyline looking east from Westport.

Solid Energy wants to continue their Stockon Mine operations into the Mt Augustus ridgeline and to lower the ridgeline by many metres. A new species of giant land snail Powelliphanta "Augustus" has been identified living on the Mt Augustus ridgeline. This is the only place in the world where this giant land snail is found and the destruction of the ridgeline is likely to lead to the snail's extinction.

All species of Powelliphanta giant land snails are "absolutely protected" under the Wildlife Act 1953. Forest and Bird recently took a successful case to the High Court for a declaration on the interpretation of the Wildlife Act. Solid Energy was operating under the assumption that it did not require permission under the Act to mine the snails' habitat and thereby cause them to die.

As a result of the declaration Solid Energy has now made an application to both the Ministers of Conservation and Energy for permission to kill most of the snails by destroying the majority of their remaining habitat.

Cypress (Happy Valley)
The proposed new Cypress open cast mine is some 4 kilometres from Mt Augustus in the south east corner of the Stockton plateau and upper Waimangaroa valley.

In a disappointing decision in December 2005 the High Court declined Forest and Bird's appeal against the granting of consents to Solid Energy for the 350 ha open cast Cypress coal mine. Mining is expected to start at the end of 2006 and will destroy more than 200 ha of stunted coal plateau forest. The proposed Cypress mine site has 13 endangered species including great spotted kiwi, a giant land snail Powelliphanta patrickensis, and a tussock Chionochloa juncea, which is only found on the coal plateau.

The proposed Cypress mine is likely to be the first of several mines in the largely untouched upper Waimangaroa valley.

Based on information provided by Solid Energy there are several potential large underground mines immediately south of the Cypress mine site, with another 3-6 potential opencast mines further south. At Mt William South the potential opencast mine at is of an equivalent size to Cypress. At Deep Creek it would be at least twice the size of Cypress. All of these proposed mines are largely within the Upper Waimangaroa Recommended Area for Protection(RAP) and are areas which have high conservation values.

ENDS

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