Upset as Covid-19 rules bar public presence at Barrytown mine hearing

5:25 pm on 21 September 2021

Three days of hearings begin in Greymouth tomorrow on a controversial proposal to mine the Barrytown Flats.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Australian-owned company Barrytown JVL has applied for resource consent from the West Coast Regional Council to mine 63 hectares of farmland south of Punakaiki for ilmenite and other minerals.

The plan has met with universal opposition from every organisation and individual allowed to make submissions under the council's limited notification process.

But it has also sparked a negative reaction from the wider community, notably from people living along the scenic Coast Road.

The mining site lies between State highway 6 and the sea, and locals are concerned about trucks carting material up the road, the impact of the operation on the Westland petrel colony and nearby wetlands.

Objectors presenting evidence to commissioners at the hearings this week include Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae, the Department of Conservation and neighbours of the proposed mining site, along with expert witnesses.

The mining company believes it can mitigate any adverse effects, and both the regional council and Grey District Council staff have recommended granting the company the consents it needs to go ahead.

Public attendance at the hearings will be kept to a minimum: because of Covid-19 level 2 restrictions the regional council can allow only 15 people at a time in its meeting room.

The hearings will be broadcast live on the regional council's Facebook feed and available via its website for viewing later.

But the decision to hold the hearing with the public physically excluded has upset some who were keen to attend in person.

Barrytown resident Suzanne Hills says the council has already excluded many people from having a say by a limited notification process.

"The public have been denied the opportunity to use their voice and submit on this resource consent and are now denied the opportunity to hear and see in person.

"It feels like the three (un)wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

The council had chosen to reschedule the hearing under Covid-19 level 2 restrictions rather than delay until level 1, but had failed to make arrangements for public attendance under those conditions, Hills said.

"This does not appear to meet S39 of the RMA. Although they state the hearing will be available to view by live streaming, this is not inclusive as it eliminates people who do not have the internet capability to livestream."

The regional council's consents team leader Colin Helem said the hearing had already been postponed twice and there were RMA timeframes to meet in having the matter heard and a decision made.

"Section 39 that is referred to also mentions what is fair and reasonable under the circumstances. Under Covid restrictions, it is fair and reasonable to limit numbers attending and to have a livestream of the hearing."

If the hearing were postponed for a third time there were no guarantees when alert levels would change, Helem said.

"There is nothing to stop people gathering to watch the hearings online at venues such as the public library and digital hub which both had internet access."

But the council could not organise that, he said.

"The council would also then become responsible for ensuring that people attending were adhering to the Covid restrictions, mask-wearing, physical distancing as an example."

"This is the reality of the world we live in."

The hearing and the livestream start at 9am Wednesday 22 September at the regional council chambers in Greymouth.

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