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Minister Declines Extension Of Proposed Gold Mine

17 August 2001

Minister Declines Major Extension Of Proposed Gold Mine In Victoria Conservation Park

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee announced today that she had declined the application by mining company GRD Macraes for an extension to their current mining access arrangement for an area in the Victoria Conservation Park near Reefton.

Ms Lee said she had made her decision in accordance with the provisions of Section 61(2) of the Crown Minerals Act, 1991, which states:

“In considering whether to agree to an access arrangement in respect of Crown land, the appropriate Minister shall have regard to:

(a) The objectives of any act under which the land is administered; and

(b) Any purpose for which the land is held by the Crown; and

(c) Any policy statement or management plan of the Crown in relation to the land; and

(d) The safeguards against any potential adverse effects of carrying out the proposed programme of work; and

(e) Such other matters as the appropriate Minister considers relevant”

“As required by the Crown Minerals Act I have had regard to these criteria set out in section 61(2). With respect to those criteria and based on the information before me:

- I am of the clear view that the application contradicts the objectives of the Conservation Act.

- The affected land is part amenity area and part wildlife management area. These areas are specially protected areas under the Conservation Act. The Act requires amenity areas to be managed so as to protect their indigenous, natural and historic resources; and requires wildlife management areas to be managed so as to protect their wildlife and wildlife habitat values. I do not consider I would be upholding the statutory requirements in relation to these areas if I were to approve the application because of the impacts on the amenity and wildlife management areas.

- I consider the potential adverse effects of the proposed mining operations to be inconsistent with the current North Westland Regional Management Plan, which seeks, among other things, to protect areas which have historic values.

- I accept that various safeguards will minimise or reduce some of the adverse effects on the land but I am not satisfied that they offer sufficient guarantees that all risk can be removed or that all the effects can be addressed. There are also a number of effects that it may not be possible to minimise or reduce and these would represent losses of significant conservation values.

- As for “such other matters as the appropriate Minister may consider relevant’, this covers such matters as compensation. This was a part of the first decision in 1993 to grant access, and the proposed package now amounts to around $1.5 million. I accept therefore that there is potential for compensation to be paid.

- I have considered whether potential compensation and the proposed safeguards against some of the adverse effects are sufficient to outweigh my concerns as to consistency with the objectives of the Conservation Act, the purposes for which the land is held by the Crown, the potential loss of conservation values and, to a lesser extent, the North Westland Regional Management Plan. I do not think they are sufficient. To my mind, my concerns as to the consistency with the objectives of the Conservation Act and the purposes for which the land is held, in particular, outweigh any potential compensation and possible mitigation of adverse effects,” said Ms Lee.

In 1993 a previous Minister of Conservation, Hon Denis Marshall granted GRD Macraes an access arrangement to enable it to undertake a gold mining operation in the Victoria Conservation Park. Since then the company has sought a number of variations. The most recent of these was in 1998 in respect of which bonds for the whole site and long term liability of the tailing impoundment have yet to be resolved.

GRD Macraes was seeking, in its latest variation application a very significant extension to the proposed goldmine.

Ms Lee said the mining plans envisaged in the latest access application would mean that two large tailings impoundments (covering 36 and 38 hectares), with rock residues containing arsenic and other heavy metals, would have to be managed for the long term, as would the two massive waste rock stacks. These structures have to be permanently sealed to protect them from leaking heavy metals into the surrounding environment.

In addition, the massive 275 metre deep pit to be dug may be left as a lake, with potential long-term contamination of water quality. Any large-scale failure of these structures could have a very serious impact on water quality and devastate downstream watercourses.

“There is a possible risk of stability failure of these tailings impoundments and while the risks to stability may be low they are nevertheless real. There is also the potential of seepage from the impoundments for a number of years and the danger that root penetration and natural erosion processes may penetrate the impoundments and rock stacks creating a risk of further leaching.

“While I appreciate that provision can be made to manage the risks that these structures pose in the long term, the fact is that I do not wish to incur these risks in a conservation park. Things do go wrong in large-scale mining operations of this sort, as we have seen with the serious problems with the Golden Cross/Waitekauri dam on conservation land in the Coromandel, which caused the mine to close and has cost between $20 million and $30 million to remedy. Hard rock mining also has a tarnished environmental record overseas,” said Ms Lee

“There will be significant loss of protected native bird life including hole nesters such as kaka, kakariki and rifleman. The forest that would be cleared for the mine is also inhabited by robins, weka, kereru and brown creeper. Part of the area will be rehabilitated by the company, but high forest cover will never be restored to the tailings impoundments, the pit and nor, possibly, to the rock stacks which in total cover 223 hectares of the 260 hectare mining area,” said Ms Lee.

“The original decision to approve access under the Crown Minerals Act was granted in July 1993 by the Hon Denis Marshall, and this is the fourth application to vary this access agreement.

“This latest variation is a very significant increase in the size of the scheme, with the total amount of land adversely affected rising from 170 hectares in 1994 to 260 hectares, including an increase in the amount of virgin forest adversely affected rising from 95 hectares to 155 hectares. The amount of rock removed has doubled from 60 million tonnes to 120 million tonnes. In addition another tailings impoundment and another waste rock stack have been added.

"The status of the land has also been changed in the direction of stronger protection of conservation values, due to the gazetting of the West Coast Accord reserves by the previous National Government.

“When you stand on the site at Reefton, as I have done, and consider a pit which will be 275 metres deep and nearly a kilometre long, tailing impoundments up to 80 metres deep and waste rock stacks, one of which is nearly 200 metres high, this represents a massive intrusion into conservation values and I do not consider this to be appropriate in a conservation park” said Ms Lee.

Ends


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