14 Oct 2023

Residents worry about impact of proposed mine site at Mananui

3:40 pm on 14 October 2023
Looking across the mine site and Cape Foulwind

Looking across the mine site and Cape Foulwind. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

A sand mine at Cape Foulwind on the West Coast attracted controversy when it was granted consent in 2022, with residents worried about the impact on the coastal community.

The company now has plans to establish another mine at Mananui, south of Hokitika, where residents are also worried about noise, light pollution and truck movements in the small town.

Westland Mineral Sands general manager Tim Chase said there was strong demand for the heavy mineral concentrate - its first shipment of 26,000 tonnes left Nelson for China last week.

The dark sand was rich in iron, titanium oxide, and other elements and was being extracted from dunes near the coast at Cape Foulwind.

"Those outputs are used in most commodities that we see in today; paints, make-up, medicines, titanium body parts, medical facility components, tools.

"It is a very widely used source and we're sitting on a world class deposit here."

Westland Mineral Sands general manager Tim Chase

Westland Mineral Sands general manager Tim Chase. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

One neighbour launched a petition against the Cape Foulwind mine in 2021, while others appealed the conditions of the resource consent in the Environment Court.

Those neighbours did not want to speak about the mine operation until the West Coast Regional Council releases a report with monitoring data from the past year.

"People are generally concerned about noise or dust, or impacts to their local area and we need to take those on board and prove to them otherwise."

Chase said the operation was low impact, it did not use chemicals or reactionary agents, with the land progressively rehabilitated so it can be farmed again.

That meant it was an ongoing process to remove the topsoil from the dunes, setting it aside while the ore is mined, before the tailings (sand without the minerals) are put back and recovered with the topsoil, so mined areas were not left exposed.

Heavy mineral concentrate sand rich in ilmenite at Port Nelson ready to be shipped to China

Heavy mineral concentrate sand rich in ilmenite at Port Nelson ready to be shipped to China. Photo: Supplied / Westland Mineral Sands

Further south, the company has plans to mine 110 hectares at Mananui, near Lake Mahinepua, for ilmenite, garnet and gold.

"The West Coast is sitting on a plethora of deposits and opportunities and our exploration teams are working and looking at other deposits ... small steps, but I believe we have a very big long term future here on the West Coast."

Gene Wilson lives across the road from the proposed Mananui mine site and was concerned about noise, dust, light pollution, water quality, and truck movements.

"When you go outside at night, if it's a nice evening there's just stars everywhere, it's nice, it's peaceful, it's quiet.

"You put a big 17-metre high plant out there in the middle of the paddock and all the lights and stuff that go with it, you've got a dredge operating 24 hours a day that's got to be lit up, it's definitely something that's going to affect what we've got now."

The Nine Mile mine is among grassed dunes at Cape Foulwind on the West Coast

The Nine Mile mine is among grassed dunes at Cape Foulwind on the West Coast. Photo: Supplied / Westland Mineral Sands

He has met with Westland Mineral Sands twice now, after the company contacted neighbours to hear about their concerns, but Wilson said his have not yet been allayed.

"Like I've said to them, the best way to alleviate our concerns is not to be there to be honest."

Wilson said truck movements were a big concern.

There was initial talk of 30 truck movements a day, but that was now looking more like 75 and he said there was a chance that could increase further as the mine's capability expanded.

"I just think everyone needs to know completely what is going to happen and what could happen in the future before they're allowed to proceed, to be honest, I think it's only fair, because it is something that's going to affect everyone."

Other neighbouring residents RNZ spoke to said they were not opposed to mining, but had concerns about its potential impact and the loss of tranquilty in the small, peaceful town.

'Benefits outweigh the negatives'

Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne said the establishment of a new mining industry on the coast brought with it new opportunities.

"We're not just mining coal here anymore and we're contributing to the sustainability of the future economy, which is really exciting.

"While there won't be zero impacts, they can certainly minimise them and they are very happy to work with the local communities where they can. I think the benefits they bring by way of increased economic activity, far outweigh the negatives."

Westland Mineral Sands currently employs 40 staff at it Cape Foulwind site, and expect to employ another 60 or so in Mananui.

The latest data from Statistics New Zealand shows as of August, there were 725 more jobs on the West Coast compared to the same time last year.

"The great brain drain that we've seen to Australia, the West Coast certainly hasn't been immune to that, but we're definitely seeing a lot of people looking at coming back and some have already because these are good, high paying jobs."

The resource consent application for the Mananui mine was due to be lodged this month, and was expected be publicly notified.