25 Oct 2013

Green light for West Coast mine

8:24 pm on 25 October 2013

A new open-cast coalmine on the West Coast appears inevitable after the Environment Court ended a long-running legal battle to stop it.

As a result of the ruling, Bathurst Resources says its mine on the Denniston Plateau, north of Westport, should be producing coal early in 2014. The mine will be near Solid Energy's Stockton mine and Bathurst's existing Cascade mine.

Bathurst Resources plans to mine this area of the Denniston Plateau.

Bathurst Resources plans to mine this area of the Denniston Plateau. Photo: Debs Martin

Environmentalists maintain building the mine will be a big mistake, saying the area has a unique ecosystem that must be preserved. However, they have few options left after fighting unsuccessfully on almost every legal front they could find.

Their repeated challenges in the High Court have failed and their case at the substantive hearing at the Environment Court was also dismissed on Thursday.

Forest and Bird, which led the challenge, says it is bitterly disappointed and is analysing the court judgment because an appeal is only permitted on legal grounds.

Spokesperson Debs Martin says part of the reason for the loss was the absence of specialist advice from the Department of Conservation, which did not take part in the court case. She says the court was hampered by the lack of expert input.

However, the Department of Conservation says it chose to address potential conservation matters by way of an access agreement, an out-of-court process between it and the mine's owner.

It says as that was not part of the Resource Management Act process, DoC was not required to take part in the case.

But Forest and Bird's advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says the RMA process and access agreement are two separate things.

"It may not a very perfect submission, but the department actually is involved in the Ruataniwha (dam proposal) and there is some conservation land that may be affected. Again, they're engaging in both processes. So no, I think the argument they weren't there for Denniston doesn't make sense."

Forest and Bird says DoC is seriously underfunded and not advocating for the environment as hard as it used to.

Jobs boost

Bathurst Resources and the Government have welcomed the decision, citing 225 jobs at the mine and $1 billion for the economy over six years.

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges says Bathurst Resources is also funding environmental programmes, including an anti-predator programme on the plateau and in nearby Kahurangi National Park.

Buller district mayor Garry Howard told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the mine is exciting for the West Coast but the region has reservations because people may still try to stop it.

Mr Howard says the mine itself would only be on 106 of the 2400 hectares of the plateau, which is similar in size to a small farm.