The beauty of the Denniston Plateau. Photo: Forest & Bird

As the appeal begins today in the Environment Court against Bathurst Resources’ consent to mine the beautiful Denniston Plateau,  we received a copy (via Russel Norman’s facebook page) of a beautifully written letter from West Coaster Jane

Orchard to the NZ Herald’s energy reporter Grant Bradley.

Jane wasn’t at all sure that the NZ Herald would publish her letter, so she sent it to Russel, and we felt it was well worth re-posting it on our blog.

It’s a very good reposte to the ridiculous claims by Bathurst and the Government that the company’s financial problems are down to the legal challenges against the opencast mine – claims that were repeated by Bradley with seemingly little investigation into the truth behind Bathurst’s problems.

Dear Mr Bradley

I was intrigued with an article you wrote about Bathurst in the Herald, basically touting their official line that all their problems are caused by protests about their mining activity. It is absolute rubbish and I really wish some journalist would spend some time researching what has really happened instead of just trotting out the spin from these people.

On the basis of this spin, the Government is talking about fast-tracking the resource-consent process to make things easier for Bathurst. This is when things become really serious.

About a month ago, I sent a letter to the ed to the NZ Herald on the subject of Bathurst’s credibility. It was not published and I guess I always knew that it wouldn’t be. Nobody wants to rock the Government’s boat.

Hamish Bohannan is putting out very effective spin. Bathurst has a great propaganda team and they are making it clear to anyone who will listen that the drop in their share prices has been caused by protests against their plans. However, it seems to me that the drop in the share price has predominantly resulted from one of their major bank investors (7%, I think) getting out, taking a $56 million loss, and flooding the market with shares.

Why would an investor get out like this? Because Bathurst Resources is a farce. It spent multi-millions on buying from L&M a mining plan which could never have worked. It is laughable, as most Coasters could have told them but they didn’t ask. Bathurst did no due diligence on the plan. They obviously just wrote out the cheque.

I have to assume that they didn’t even know that Denniston is an ecologically unique and valuable area with species which are found nowhere else in the world (but which Mr Bohannan claims Bathurst will return to a much better state than it is in now).

Bathurst managed to get consents for this wonderful plan even though it would have contaminated the water supplies of around a hundred families – despite the fact that NZ has signed agreements with UN agencies which give us a legally enforceable right to clean water for domestic purposes.

Coal is king on the Coast. West Coast Regional Council approved the discharge of contaminants to air knowing our water supplies would be polluted and the resource consent commissioners consented to it. The Health and Safety in Employment Act prohibits workplaces from causing harm to people in the vicinity of a workplace, but that didn’t matter either.

People here would have died from the coal dust – with the approval of our councils. People don’t matter a damn here. I hate to think how much it cost Bathurst to get the consents but it had legal heavyweights and experts on its team pitted against a small group of local residents who had only themselves. We lost, big time!

The plan involved bringing a slurry pipeline across the Denniston Plateau, down the hill to a coal-processing plant and coal stockpile 12+m high and 1 km long, right beside people’s homes.

It was later pointed out to Bathurst by locals that you might be able to get water to go down an 80m gully and come up around 79m on the other side, but you aren’t going to do that with coal in the water, and the consequences of one of our frequent power cuts don’t bear thinking about. Then they learned that the Denniston Plateau might have the joy of 6-8m of rain a year, but the ground is largely granite and the water simply runs off.

In summer, there’s no water up there at all. A friend who grew up there told us of his house being built beside a creek. A walkway went out to the longdrop which emptied straight into the creek. In summer, his mother prayed every day for rain because of the smell!

So the slurry pipeline was dead in the water and Bathurst is now planning some sort of conveyor system but that’s not consented yet and, no doubt, they’ll blame that delay on local protestors too. Next was the site for the coal-processing plant, the stockpile and a railway siding. The land we live on is the result of a series of ancient landslides. It is formless, saturated clay with occasional large rocks in it. It was mentioned at the resource-consent hearing that you can’t put a large building on this land because the mud has no bottom. The options for a railway siding are non-existent.

A few weeks later, Bathurst had a drilling rig on the site. They apparently went down 20m before they found bottom. They couldn’t build the plant there. Some residents told them about a better site about 2km away. We were saved – sort of!

We will still get noise and pollution from the mine and the other processing plant and that’s illegal so we’ll fight that battle next. However, Bathurst has refused to relinquish the consent for the plant next to our homes.

So perhaps the investors realised from all the about-turns that Bathurst management was completely out of its depth. It is not a mining company. It’s a bunch of venture capitalists.

To rub salt into their wounds, Bathurst had paid non-refundable deposits to those people who were strong enough to stand up to their tactics. Those people have laughed all the way to the bank. Despite this arrangement, Bathurst categorically told Westport’s The News that it had not been involved in any purchase of properties and did not intend to buy any. Would you invest in a company like this?

Bathurst has no social conscience, despite its claims of being a community-minded company. They are spending heaps of money in town but will that continue after Buller District Council has served its purpose in supporting them through the consent process? That remains to be seen. They are prepared for people to die. People who could not live in Westport because of the coal smog in winter built homes out here to avoid exacerbating respiratory ailments. Coal dust kills. Nobody but us cared about our lives.

Bathurst isn’t caught in a litigation loop. It’s more like a noose of its own making. Please don’t believe Bathurst’s spin. Do some investigations of your own and then write about them. Trotting out info from press releases is easy but is it journalism?

Jane Orchard