19 Jun 2019

Company seeking to mine Foulden Maar placed into receivership

6:24 pm on 19 June 2019

Plaman Resources, the company behind a controversial mineral mine in inland Otago, has been placed into voluntary receivership.

A pit at Foulden Maar, near Middlemarch. A proposal to mine diatomite would see the entire crater destroyed.

A pit at Foulden Maar, near Middlemarch. Photo: Wikicommons

Investment firm KordaMentha has been appointed receiver to Plaman Resources, which owns 42 hectares of land near Middlemarch, including the scientifically significant Foulden Maar.

Foulden Maar is a 23-million-year-old crater lake containing large deposits of diatomite, which has preserved a treasure trove fossil and climate change record of the area.

Diatomite is the fossilised remains of single-celled aquatic algae.

Read more about Foulden Maar

Hundreds of significant insect fossils have been discovered at Foulden Maar, including this holotype of a worker ant, Austroponera schneideri.

Hundreds of significant insect fossils have been discovered at Foulden Maar, including this holotype of a worker ant, Austroponera schneideri. Photo: CC BY 4.0 Uwe Kaulfuss Antweb.org

Last year, Plaman Resources - based in Australia but largely Malaysian owned - obtained a $30 million loan from investment bank Goldman Sachs to mine 500,000 tonnes of diatomite a year at the site.

Almost a year and a half ago it had sought Overseas Investment Office approval to buy an adjoining farm in the hopes of mining diatomite as an animal feed supplement from the maar.

Plaman's plans have caused significant controversy and pushback from the community.

KordeMentha partner Neale Jackson said regulatory processes took longer than the company expected and as a result Plaman has encountered funding difficulties and its directors asked that receivers be appointed.

A fossil fish from Foulden Maar.

A fossil fish from Foulden Maar. Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0 Jamie Wood

He said the receivers are assessing options for the company and its assets.

Opponents of a controversial mineral mine in Otago are pleased the site has been saved but want long-term legal protection.

Andrea Bosshard said the site needs permanent protection from commercial mining.

Plans turn spotlight on Foulden Maar

For many, including Otago locals, the scientific significance of Foulden Maar - about an hour's drive from Dunedin - was completely unknown until earlier this year.

That was when a confidential report from Goldman Sachs detailing Plaman Resources' plans for mining the site entered the public arena.

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Photo: RNZ / Timothy Brown

It suggested the company might strip all the diatomite from the area and in the process destroy an ancient record of fossils and climate change data covering 100,000 years.

Enter former prime minister Helen Clark, who added her voice to the opposition and called for its permanent preservation.

Middlemarch locals Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader led the fight against the mine for the past year.

Mr Loader said they were pleased mining would not take place in the short term.

"We're happy to hear that but in a funny way I'm not hugely surprised because I don't think it was ever a viable proposition," he said.

Ms Bosshard said the fight was not yet over.

"In a way this is the start of a whole other story, which is about how do we now protect that site in perpetuity for future generations and that there is an absolute ban on all mining of that area except for the work that scientists now and scientists in the future do."

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who initially supported the mine before retracting that and calling for preservation of the maar, said the council would continue to push for preservation of the maar as well.

"From the council's point of view the issue wasn't defeating Plaman Resources, it was about protecting a significant and very precious fossil record," he said.

"Plaman's gone into receivership - that's very unfortunate for the company - but the focus for council will be pursuing ways and investigating ways of protecting the resource."

Strath Taieri Community Board chair Barry Williams, who was on the fence about the mine proposal, said Plaman was not the first company to fall over attempting to mine the diatomite.

"I've lived in Middlemarch all my life and it's at least the fourth one I've seen - this will be the fourth lot that have had a go at it and nothing's happened. I think I said right at the start that I doubt it'll ever get off the ground."