Court overturns decision on mine near Westport

6:35 pm on 20 April 2023
A view from the terrace on the lower slopes of Mt Rochfort and above Te Kuha, looking towards the town of Westport and the Buller River mouth.

A view from the terrace on the lower slopes of Mt Rochfort and above Te Kuha, looking towards the town of Westport and the Buller River mouth. Photo: Supplied / Forest and Bird - Neil Silverwood

The Environment Court has overturned a decision to allow the development of a new coalmine at Te Kuha, behind Westport.

Forest and Bird today hailed the decision as "a massive win" for the climate and biodiversity.

The ruling is the outcome of Forest and Bird's legal challenge to the 2017 resource consent decision by commissioners for the Buller District Council and West Coast Regional Council to allow mining of the Westport water reserve, on a terrace below Mount Rochfort.

The court ruling showed the importance of "environmental bottom lines", Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki said today.

It showed the council had violated the Reserves Act which required it to administer the land it holds for water supply purposes, "in a manner consistent with its purposes".

Rangitira Developments Ltd needed three sets of permissions to go ahead: resource consents, access to DOC-administered stewardship land, and permission to mine the council water reserve.

"It has lost in all three processes," Toki said.

Minerals West Coast manager Patrick Phelps said it appeared the court had not accounted for the environmental mitigation benefits through the mine proposal, being 6907 hectares of habitat management, including pest and predator control.

It was a disappointing decision for the whole West Coast, he said.

That included the loss of about 60 new job opportunities and at least $6 million of wages.

"The coal produced at this mine would have enabled steel production in the Asia Pacific market, for which there is currently no economic alternative.

"Steel is used for everything ... to say nothing of addressing the country's housing and infrastructure shortage," Phelps said.

Stopping the Te Kuha mine would do nothing to stop the next flood or storm being more severe than the one before it - "another pit will simply be dug somewhere else".

The proposed mine 12 kilometres east of Westport is on the same escarpment which contains the historic Denniston and Stockton coal reserves.

Access through 12ha of stewardship land was previously turned down by former conservation minister Eugenie Sage and Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods.

Rangitira then lost a judicial review appealing that decision in 2020, when Forest and Bird won a case in the Supreme Court showing that the Buller District Council must comply with its obligations under the Reserves Act, in protecting the Westport water conservation reserve area of the proposed mine.

Forest and Bird said the 150ha site, including council reserve and DOC stewardship land, contained rare ecosystems and kiwi.

"You can't offset or compensate your way out of destroying unique landscapes, plants or animals."

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