29 Aug 2011

West Coast leaders back proposed Buller mine

7:19 pm on 29 August 2011

Community leaders have voiced strong support for a proposed coal mine on the South Island's West Coast.

Independent commissioners have approved an application from Buller Coal, a subsidiary of the Australian company Bathurst Resources, for an open cast mine on conservation land on the Denniston Plateau.

The mine could produce up to two million tonnes of industrial grade export coal a year and is expected to create more than 420 jobs.

The Department of Conservation is now considering whether it will give the company permission to go ahead, but residents and an environmental group are threatening court action to prevent it.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn believes the project could mean work for many miners who lost their jobs following the Pike River mine explosion in November last year.

"We need jobs in the mining industry and even though it's up in the Buller area, a lot of the people who were working in (the Pike River Coal mine) will actually get a job up in that area."

Mr Kokshoorn says the region is on the cusp of a coal mining boom due to the price of coal.

West Coast Tasman MP Chris Auchinvole says a new mine would give a massive boost to the region's fragile economy.

Bernie Monk, spokesperson for families of the Pike River victims, says the proposed mine may bring back workers who moved to Australia after the disaster.

There are more than 70 mines on Department of Conservation land.

Residents, Forest and Bird unhappy

Residents and environmental group Forest and Bird say they are prepared to take action in the Environment Court to stop the mine.

The Fairdown-Whareatea Residents Association says the mine's coal processing plant will be built near their rural homes, bringing dust and noise 24 hours a day.

Spokesperson Tony Peet believes the processing plant could have been built elsewhere and the association plans to appeal against the consents granted.

"The Department of Conservation actually encouraged them (Bathurst Resources) to take that route because it would minimise scarring on the hillside. But what that does entail for us is that it brings their infrastructure right into our backyards."

Mr Peet says the mine's 12-metre-high coal stockpile will be within 200 metres of some homes.

Forest and Bird is threatening legal action through the court and the Green Party says it would back any such challenge.

Forest and Bird says the 200-hectare mine is on conservation land and the Department of Conservation has a responsibility under law to consider the conservation values of the Buller site, rather than any economic gains from mining.

The environmental group says the independent commissioners have highlighted the ecological value of the Denniston Plateau and DoC has no choice but to boycott the mine by refusing land access.