Conservation park ‘trimmed’ to suit mining interests

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, February 15th, 2010 - 35 comments
Categories: Conservation, Mining, national - Tags: , , ,

The Standard has been sent copies of documents (1,2,3,4) released under the Official Information Act which show that one of National’s first acts in government was to trim a Conservation Park at the request of a mining company, ignoring local concerns and official advice, to let the company dig up the land for coal.

The Oteake Conservation Park was created out of existing conservation estate and other Crown land. The purpose of a conservation park under the Conservation Act is to ensure the land’s “natural and historic resources are protected” and “facilitate public recreation and enjoyment’ of our natural environment.

What this place really needs is a coal mine

The Park was to have included the upper Manuherikia valley, which is DOC-owned. Located close the the Otago Rail Trail, the upper Manuherikia valley is a popular site for picnicking, tramping, and other excursions.

Apart from being an area of outstanding beauty, it is also the site of head waters that supply Falls Dam, which supplies both irrigation to the farms at the mouth of the valley and hydroelectric power, as well as water for the Hawdun-Idaburn Irrigation Scheme and drinking water for the town of Naseby. The river valley is also home to several rare species of native bird and fish. One of the reasons given for including this catchment in the conservation park was to improve and protect the flow of water downstream.

On the 3 December 2008, a mere week after the Key Government was formed, DOC officials were directed to prepare information on trimming the Oteake Conservation Park in anticipation of a discussion between Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee and then Conservation Minister Tim Groser. The area to be removed from the protection of conservation park status was the upper Manuherikia valley.

It just so happens that the area contains a substantial reserve of lignite and mining company L&M wanted to get its hands on. The company approached the government to have this public land excluded from the protection afforded for land in conservation parks by the Conservation Act so it could make some cash digging up the coal:

[L&M] requested that a specified area of conservation land  (215 hectares) in the upper Manuherikia valley overlying part of the Hawkdun lignite deposit, be excluded from the park. L&M Mining also submitted that the proposed location of recreational facilities for the park would further compromise the mining opportunities

But officials advised that the conservation significance of the valley was significant and was “critically important”

The upper Manuherikia valley is one of the few places where Oteake park can include basin floor or “lowland” components. Including such components enables parks to better protect and represent the full range of high country environments, ecosystems and landscapes, and offer a wider range of recreational opportunities

Mining in the upper Manuherikia valley threatens not only the public’s enjoyment of the natural landscape but will have downstream implications for water use. This advice and the outrage of locals was ignored for a shady deal with mining interests. After Brownlee met with Groser, the land was quietly removed from the Oteake Conservation Park, ready for L&M to come and take the coal. And all this in the Key Government’s first days. I’m not sure I remember mining conservation land being in the 100 day plan.

November 2008 was the start of severe global economic problems, yet from Day 1 the Key government’s priority was secretly helping mining interests. After the revelation on Q+A yesterday about Key’s shareholding in Jackson Mining, you’ve got to wonder: What was the rush?

We have to start to ask questions about how a small mining company can get National to put aside more pressing concerns and override advice from officials and the wishes of locals to grant it a special favour. Given National’s headlong rush to open up more public conservation land to mining interests, we have to take a harder look at National’s links to those interests.

35 comments on “Conservation park ‘trimmed’ to suit mining interests”

  1. Marty G 1

    A few days in government and their top priority is removing land from protected status so it can be mined.

    You’re dead right, the links between National and mining need to be investigated in more depth.

  2. Marty G 2

    Oh crap. The Sierra Club has written to Key as PM and minister for tourism about the threat to tourism from mining on conservation land. On RNZ, Brownlee is speaking on behalf of the government – not minister for tourism or minister for conservation, but minister for resource exploitation.

  3. The proposition that a conservation area can be mined and yet retain its pristine condition is equivalent to the proposition that someone can be screwed and yet retain their virginity.

    • vto 3.1

      Well not always mickeysavage. Virtually the entire Coromandel was clear-felled. Now it has grown back to a state of near virginal pristine gleaming. Many people think it has never been touched.

      But nonetheless I agree that Key and kohorts should be stopped at the gate on this.

      In a similar vein I see there is a piece on tv one news tonight on the proposed road through one of NZ’s last forgotten areas that was the subject of a post here a few weeks ago. I went back into that coast a week or so ago – it again blew my wee mind in its astoundingness. A road will ruin it forever. All for the sake of a few tourists. Dumbo Brownlee..

      • NickS 3.1.1

        Nyet comrade, to the trained eye it’s clearly regenerating forest, that’s missing certain tree species, mainly emergents like rimu, kauri, rata’s etc due to selective logging and the impact of introduced herbivores, which has also altered the understory and canopy community structure.

        And then there’s stuff likes birds, bats, freshwater fish and invertebrates…

        So really, it’s hardly virginal. Heck, it will take at least another century or two of plantings, growth and pest control to even get close to the original forest structure.

        ps; where the hell has the blockquote function gone to?

      • Richard 3.1.2

        I have been to the Coromandel once. I had heard how beautiful it was. And there were some beautiful spots… between lots of ugly spots of pine clearfell, low regen scrub and hideous development (Pauanui et el). Have I missed your point? Were you being sarcastic when you say it has “grown back to a state of near virginal pristine gleaming”?????

  4. Pascal's bookie 4

    This whole thing is similar in principle to what went on the US during the last administration.

    There, the lobbyists wanted to explore for oil and gas in Alaskan reserves. The argument was about ‘energy security’ and morphed into the ‘drill baby drill’ mantra.

    Worth noting that even with GWB at the helm ( with all his oil co links), Cheney in the co-pilot seat (with all his links as well) and a congress controlled by the Tom Delay era GOP (with all the corruption that entailed); they still didn’t actually do it.

    • Bill 4.1

      But Obama is running with the whole thing. Just takes time…about 5 years?

      A North Slope village united Wednesday with some of the heaviest hitters in the environmental community to challenge a plan by Shell Oil to drill off Northwest Alaska this summer.
      REDOIL and the village are joined by The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, as well as several other environmental groups.

      • Pascal's bookie 4.1.1

        That sucks, but it looks like the Chukchi Sea aint a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. S

  5. luva 5

    We are going to have to refine our attack lines aren’t we fringe left.

    Is this a do nothing government…or is this an evil hard right group who are going to destroy this country through neo liberal polcies and tearing up our National Parks.

    Let us have the debate. We are in the economic shit at the moment so why not explore everything we can do. If National Park mining is an option then lets assess the pros and cons of NOT doing it.

    • Marty G 5.1

      “Is this a do nothing government or is this an evil hard right group who are going to destroy this country through neo liberal polcies and tearing up our National Parks.”

      It’s a government that does nothing to lift living standards and create jobs for Kiwi families because its busy handling out favours to its mates.

      • captain rehab 5.1.1

        Sometimes doing nothing fits a right-wing agenda perfectly.

      • luva 5.1.2

        riiiiight… ‘do nothing’ is a fluid term.

        Do nothing has now evolved into ‘do only for its mates’ i.e. the people that voted it in and still support it in record numbers in fact growing numbers.

        So do nothing doesnt actually mean ‘do nothing’ at all.

        It is hard to keep up with the fringe left. Say what you like about the Nats at least they were consistent in their attack lines while in opposition

        • Marty G

          “so ‘do nothing’ is a fluid term” of course, it describes a government that doesn’t do anything for the people who need it, that is naturally a fluid term.

          “It is hard to keep up with the fringe left.” do try, old boy

    • Smokie 6.1

      Good show IS. The interesting aspect to me is the date… if the advice Eddie posted was dated the 3rd December, I want to know when it was requested. Groser must have asked for it just about the day he was sworn in… Weren’t Ministers sworn in on about the 24th Nov? Just a week earlier.

      It’s worrisome they’ve started this mining thing right from the start, with no heads up at all.

      • Idiot/Savant 6.1.1

        if the advice Eddie posted was dated the 3rd December, I want to know when it was requested.

        [Digs out documents]

        3rd of December. Brownle wrote Groser a letter [PDF] requesting a meeting to discuss the conservation park; I have the resulting email exchange between DoC staff. The briefing note [PDF] took just 1 hour and 49 minutes to draft. After the meetign that night, the gazetting of the park was put on hold.

  6. tc 7

    How likely is it that the orebodies are of a scale/quality that would magically make us a rich nation… need to bear in mind commodity prices are set globally so unless you have scale it’s unliklely and that’s why it works in OZ…..massive scale.

    Mine’s cost hundreds of million to establish, blast roads through, tailings dams, overburden, processing piles, people/machines in/out…..and the profits would be NZ owned entities or foreign mining companies ?

    What else have these looters slipped through under urgency ? On RNZ this morning the interviewers behaved like naive kids with no probing questions and took a position of ‘why not?’ rather then ‘why?’ ……heel RNZ, now sit and rollover……who’s a good govt funded broadcaster then.
    Mining companies mastered political influence decades ago and continue to refine the model.

  7. sk 8

    More digging needs to be done on John Key’s stake in Jackson Minerals. After all, this was a personal investment not an investment via a blind trust. There are two angles, one is the uranium, the other is the fact he has stakes in miners when the gov’t is opening the conservation estate for mining.

    On the uranium, Jackson Minerals acquired the Argentinian uranium project prior to the merger with Scimitar as far back as July 7. There are earlier references to their intent to expand into uranium in 2006 – and perhaps earlier. Jackson’s Boolaloo project always had a uranium angle (although the WA gov’t bans uranium mining). That may have been the attraction of the stock back then.

    So Mr Key is dissembling when he says he was not aware of the merger with Scimitar so did know of the uranium investments. The uranium angle was in play prior to that, and as a shareholder, he had to be aware of that. Indeed, uranium was probably the only reason for owning shares in Jackson Minerals/Gold

    • sk 8.1

      that should be July 2007 for the Argentinian uranium investment, when Mr Key still had plenty of time to track his investments

      • gitmo 8.1.1

        What’s the big deal about uranium being mined ?

        I’ve got shares in a few of the mining companies in Aus – a couple of which may mine uranium I believe.

        Oh and unless I see some very good data to show the economic benefits and zero to miniscule environmental impacts I’m in the no camp to mining in the existing NZ conservation estate.

        • felix

          Good on you gitmo.

          p.s. I think the issue with investing in uranium arises when you’re the PM of a country with a world famous nuclear-free stance.

          • gitmo

            Oh I see ….. and meh, there must be better things to have a go at him about than this.

            • sk

              its relevant for the dissembling. Claiming he had no idea about the uranium, when 5 mins of research shows that Jackson Minerals was always about the uranium. That Jackson owned uranium assets in Argentina, prior to the merger, whereas the spokesman from his office is implying that those assets were a function of the merger (the bit about not receiving the paperwork). Why can’t he come out and say as you do Gitmo, that he liked a bit of uranium in his portfolio?

    • Actually, I think it will be amusing to find out how much money Key considers “trivial”. Ten thousand dollars? Fifty?

      • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1

        IIRC, from his comments on his NZ Rail shares I’d say that he considers ~$50k to be trivial.

  8. Southie 9

    Hands off our land, National!

  9. gobsmacked 10

    If you guys have time, listen to Brownlee on RNZ’s Morning Report today.

    Right at the end of the interview (he’s on after the Sierra Club spokesman), Brownlee says that mines are tourist attractions..

    I am, really, not making this up.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 10.1

      Do you know- lots of people will travel half way round the planet to look at trucks driving into a hole in the ground. Who needs world heritage??

  10. jonakiwi 11

    Re conservation area mining: Gerry Brownlee to be remembered for his version of Think Big, shall we call it ‘Big Dig’.
    Whilst they spin on about low foot print surgical mining, they leave out the inconvenient truth about tailings dumps and acid mine drainage from tailings ponds.
    Sulphide waste oxidises to acid which in turn mobilises heavy metals, allowing them to escape into the water catchments.
    Acid mine drainage is a waste product that is treatable but usually allowed to pollute water ways because treatment costs would make mining unprofitable.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 11.1

      Nice present for the next 5000 generations of kiwis. Can Brownlee quantify the costs of 50,000 years of maintainence of the tailings dam?

  11. some great posts here, but all that energy needs to be channeled into the public consultation process which will start soon. Coromandel Watchdog has a great website, with excellent resources, and where you can sign on to be kept in the loop about submissions etc

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