The first test of whether there has been a real change in conservation policy will be the government’s decision on whether to allow a coal mining company to remove the mountaintop in a West Coast Conservation park, Coal Action Network Aotearoa said today.
The Buller District Council has given the green light for the Te Kuha mine – a 109ha mine in the West Coast Water Conservation area above Westport.
The top 12ha of the mine – the top of the mountain – is in the Department of Conservation’s Mt Rochfort Conservation Area and, in DOC’s own words: is “recognised as nationally and internationally unique and for having very high ecological and conservation value.”
“Earlier this month Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage signalled there would be no new mines on conservation land,” said Rosemary Penwarden of CANA.
“This is now her test: will she allow a coal miner to take the top off a mountain, in an area that contains the endangered Great Spotted Kiwi? Or will she all coal mining to go ahead, wiping out crucial biodiversity for coal that, ultimately, will end up in the atmosphere causing climate change?”
All indications are that the best coal for the proposed mine is at the top of the mountain. The mining scar would be able to be seen from downtown Westport (see image from DOC below), and from the road through the Buller gorge – a spectacular tourist attraction.
The Department of Conservation’s role in the Buller District Council hearing was one of “neutrality” – however, one of its officers did spell out the destruction that would be caused to biodiversity. Hearings for the DOC access consent were held nearly two years ago, and the Government had still not made a decision.
“All eyes are now on Ms Sage to back her words with real action and start bringing the Department of Conservation’s real role back,” said Ms Penwarden.