23 Oct 2018

Forest & Bird wins appeal against opencast coal mine on West Coast

8:51 pm on 23 October 2018

Forest and Bird has won an appeal against the development of an opencast coal mine on the West Coast of the South Island.

Digger loads up a truck at Stockton Coal Mine.

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Today, the Court of Appeal released a decision which means the Buller District Council needs to protect the special features of the Westport Water Conservation Reserve, which had been slated for use in the controversial Te Kuha opencast coal mine proposal.

"This is a pristine area of intact forest, home to threatened bird, lizard, invertebrate and plant species," said Forest and Bird lawyer Peter Anderson.

"So it's fantastic news that the Reserves Act will be able to fulfil its purpose in protecting the natural features, as the public of New Zealand would rightly expect."

Mining company Stevenson Mining had argued that protection of the natural and biological features was only one matter that the council had to consider and that it could weigh this against the economic benefits of the mine.

But the court found the council cannot allow access to its land that is incompatible with the primary purpose of the reserve and has to protect its natural and biological features.

Stevenson Mining wanted access to reserve land held by the council for its new mine, which would cover 109 hectares, including 12 hectares of conservation land.

Under the operating name of Rangitira Developments, it wanted to open the new mine at Te Kuha, about 12km up the Buller River from Westport.

The company has been fought every step of the way.

Mr Anderson said the win set a precedent that could protect council reserves around the country from mining.

It is the latest blow for Stevenson Mining, which has been developing its plan for the Te Kuha mine for years.

In June, the government turned down its application to mine on the conservation land.

The company intends to apply for a judicial review of this decision.

Stevenson Mining chief executive Mark Franklin said it was too early to say what the latest court decision meant for the mine.

He said it would be discussed by the board early next month.

Forest and Bird has also taken a case with the Environment Court appealing the resource consents the council has granted to the company for the mine.

"Great spotted kiwi, the South Island fernbird and the West Coast green gecko all live in this area," said Mr Anderson.

"It's home to the largest known population of the rare forest ringlet butterfly and other threatened invertebrates, including what appears to be a previously unknown species of tiger beetle. Our view is that it is not an appropriate place for an opencast coal mine."