A disappointing decision

July 18th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Controversial plans for a tunnel between Queenstown and Milford Sound have been rejected by Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

Dr Smith said he was declining the application because the environmental impacts were “significant” and beyond what was appropriate in two of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks.

Milford Dart Limited had applied for permission to build a $170 million, 11.3km, five-metre diameter, single-lane bus tunnel that would have slashed the nine-hour journey time between the tourist hotspots.

How disappointing. The journey to Milford is insane, and a major turn off.  I don’t see how having hundreds of buses driving man extra hours on the roads is good for the environment.

All facilities to get tourists in have some impact on a high value conservation area. But without them, no one at all would ever get to see them and value them. The Daintree Rain Forest has a gondola for example.

A tunnel would have far less visual impact than a road as it is well, underground, apart from the entrance and exit. I was hoping the application would be approved. If it had got the go ahead, I reckon in 20 years time everyone would be saying it should have happened a long time ago. Now, it may never happen.

Tags: ,

Jobs for the West Coast

May 23rd, 2013 at 12:54 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith has announced:

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today announced his approval under the Crown Minerals Act for an access agreement for Bathurst Resources for its Escarpment Mining Project on the Denniston Plateau, near Westport.

“This approval is for an open-cast mine on 106 hectares of the 2026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau. This area is not National Park, nor Conservation Park nor does it have any particular reserve status. It is general stewardship land, which is the lowest legal status of protection of land managed by the Department of Conservation. The area does have conservation values although there has been some disturbance from previous mining including roads, bulldozer tracks and an artificial reservoir. The area also has some infestation from weeds like gorse and broom,” Dr Smith said.

“The loss of conservation values is compensated by a $22 million package by Bathurst Resources. This will fund pest and predator control over 25,000 hectares of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park, 4,500 hectares on and around the Denniston Plateau, as well as for historic projects on the Plateau itself. This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture.

The Greens say they are not against all mining, just some mining. But what is the bet they condemn this decision despite $22 million for conservation.

It will be interesting to see what Labour says on this decision, and especially Damien O’Connor.

Tags: , , ,

Darcy O’Brien

December 29th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Gibson at NZ Herald reports:

If you’ve ever visited Cape Reinga, the Bay of Islands or even the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, you have a lot to thank Darcy O’Brien for. Anne Gibson meets the quiet public servant who bought large chunks of these precious coastal areas for the public good.

For many decades, much of the coast and so many parks and islands around Northland and the Auckland region have been available to camp on, walk around, land on from boats, photograph and generally adore. That access is something we think we always had. It seems right, it makes our lives better and we are happier for it. Maybe we even take it for granted because these areas have been our playground for so long.

But were it not for one man, it could well have been otherwise. The Northland and Auckland land may well have been the preserve of the rich, locked away from our eyes forever.

Darcy O’Brien is a quietly spoken unassuming gentleman who will only agree to tell us his extraordinary tale to honour others, never himself.

It is a story so strange, it beggars belief that it was ever forgotten.

“I’ll agree to it, for the sake of all New Zealanders and the belief in the public ownership of the conservation estate,” says the 95-year-old over afternoon tea at his Belmont, North Shore home of a request for an interview. …

Mr J.D. O’Brien – as he was known in the media at the time – was assistant Auckland commissioner of Crown lands in 1957 and, a decade later, Auckland commissioner of Crown lands, a title he held until he retired in 1976. He was at the centre of at least 40 separate purchases which gave the northern area its most precious northern conservation estate of well over 5000ha.

No other New Zealander has ever come close to achieving so much in this field, as with the support of successive governments and ministers of lands and survey, he created some of New Zealand’s biggest reserves, public land now in the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) hands.

What a great unknown story.

“Our man in the land grab” said the Herald on May 18, 1974, on his retirement and role with what was then the Department of Lands and Survey. It summed up just some of his accomplishments: creating the 9300ha Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park and becoming the park board’s inaugural chairman; purchasing Red Head Island, Urupukapuka Island, and Moturua Islands in the Bay of Islands; and buying Motukawanui Island, the largest in the Cavallis, for just $150,000.

Hauraki Gulf is iconic. Those of us who enjoy it, owe Darcy a vote of thanks.

Tags: ,

Whoops

February 26th, 2010 at 9:24 am by David Farrar

NZPA at 8.14 am reported:

Wellington, Feb 26 NZPA – A report prepared for the Government proposes opening 500 million hectares of conservation land to mining, it was reported today.

Now the land area of all of New Zealand is 268,000 square kms. That is 26.8 million hectares.

Australia is around 760 million hectares so NZPA have exposed that Gerry Brownlee’s cunning plan is to invade and take over Australia, and turn the entire country, except for New South Wales, into New Zealand mines.

A further NZPA report at 8.52 am reports:

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) today reported that 7 percent of schedule four land was recommended to have protection removed to allow mining.

However it understood the Government thought that was too extreme and had scaled back the area, in a proposal to be considered by Cabinet on Monday, to 7000ha.

Mr Brownlee would not confirm the details when asked by RNZ.

I’m not sure what the correct figure is, but I guess it will be closer to 7,000 hectares than to 500 million!

Now 7,000 hectares is less than 1% of the additional land Labour put into Section 4 in 2008. So Labour reclassified around 800,000 (off memory) hectares of land as Section 4, and according to Radio NZ National is looking at reversing less than 1% of that.

The total conservation estate is 30% of all of NZ, which means it is around 8.04 million hectares.

That means that, if the Radio NZ report is correct, the proposal is for 0.087% of the conservation estate to be reclassified from Section 4 to non Section 4.

Tags: , ,

Hos on mining review

September 6th, 2009 at 1:12 pm by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday editorial:

Brownlee said in the speech that an estimated 70 per cent of the country’s mineral wealth – which might include zinc, lead, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten – lies under the surface of DoC-administered land and that almost half of it is in Schedule 4 land, beyond the reach of exploitation and locked up for ever. And, with the agreement of the Minister of Conservation, Tim Groser, he has ordered a review of that state of affairs.

This is scarcely high treason. Governments routinely review and repeal laws enacted by their predecessors. They know that they misjudge the public mood at their peril – when Don Brash as Opposition leader was sprung suggesting that the ban on nuclear warships would be “gone by lunchtime” if he were PM, he felt the chill wind of public opinion very quickly – but they are not elected to administer the decisions of their political opponents.

Well said. That applies not just to mining policy! Of course as I remind people Labour itself allowed mining on conservation land.

It was perhaps predictable that Brownlee’s speech would be greeted with horror by conservationists. Typical was Kevin Hackwell, the tireless advocacy manager for Forest & Bird, who, in an op ed piece in the Herald, conjured the images of an open-cast mine on the bird sanctuary of Little Barrier Island and a large pit scarring the face of Mt Moehau at the top of the Coromandel Peninsula. Others, including former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, spoke of the Schedule 4 land as “the jewels in the crown” of the conservation estate, by implication characterising mining as an inevitably destructive process which must, by its nature, consume something of beauty.

Yet good sense must see this as an overreaction: plainly there would not be more than a handful of people who would countenance the idea of mining activity that destroyed wilderness of surpassing beauty and conservation value. But conservationists need to accept that these values do not inhere in every square metre of every piece of Schedule 4 land. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder: an unemployed worker in a small provincial town may detect less lustre than a city yuppie who wants somewhere nice to go tramping. In this argument, as in most, no value is absolute and the minister is entitled to raise the matter for discussion.

As I said, it should be considered on a case by cases basis. What is the projected economic value of a specific area, and what is the environmental value of that specific area.

Tags: , , ,

NZ Herald on mining

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:10 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

Environmentalists say mining activity would be offputting to tourists lured to this country by the promise of a pristine landscape. But two factors undermine that argument. First, the sum of land in public ownership is so large – it occupies about a third of the country – that more than enough would be left over if mining were to occupy a tiny portion. And not all the land thought likely to harbour significant deposits of zinc, lead, copper, nickel and tin has high conservation value. Second, good modern mining practice pays due heed to the environment. The days of open-cast eyesores have been consigned to history.

On a per capita basis, New Zealand undoubtedly has a valuable mineral resource. The royalties from this can play a far greater role in economic growth.

The regions where mining takes place would receive a particular fillip. For every suspicious Coromandel resident, there will be those on the West Coast of the South Island eager to grasp the opportunity. Balance, not blinkered thinking, offers the way forward. Companies prepared to bring a responsible approach to mining carefully selected parts of the Department of Conservation estate should be welcomed to this country.

I’m told the Pike River Mine (on DOC land) takes up only 10 hectares above ground. That represents around one millionth of the conservation estate.

Tags: , , ,

A calm rational analogy from the Greens

September 1st, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Jeanette Fitzsimons was interviewed last week on Checkpoint about the possibility of having mining done on portions of the conservation estate. The interviewer put to her that it might only be a couple of hundred hectares out of many thousands (in fact it is millions) of hectares of estate and Jeanette responded:

That’s like saying you’ve got six children, so it doesn’t really matter if you lose one does it.

I don’t even need to comment do I?

The key segment starts at 6:30 into the RNZ item. Listen for yourself – I am not making this up. Even the generally sympathetic interviewer sounded a bit stunned, and responded “Really, we are talking about land”.

Tags: , , ,

And more hypocrisy

September 1st, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Really Phil Goff needs to stop opposing everything that happened under Labour, just because National may do them also.

First we had him attacking a tertiary funding cap that his Government put in place in 2007.

Now we have him saying:

Labour leader Phil Goff said mining conservation land went against the 100% Pure New Zealand brand

The Pike River mine is on conservation land, adjacent to and in the Paparoa National Park. It was approved by the Government in 2004. And who was Government then?

So once again Phil attacks the Government for merely thinking about doing something that happened under his Government.

This is not the way to build up credibility.

Tags: , , , ,

Mining and the Conservation Estate

August 31st, 2009 at 1:26 pm by David Farrar

I am a regular user and lover of our conservation estate. I have done walks in Fiordland, tramps in the Tararuas, and think our conservation estate is a wonderful thing.

NZ’s land area is 268,680 square kilometres which is 26,868,000 hectares.

DOC administers 8,258,087 hectares which is 30.7358% of the total NZ land mass.

Now if someone was talking about bulldozing down 25% of the conservation estate and converting it into mines, skyscrapers and the like, I’d be first down at the picket line.

But am I against any mining whatsoever on the conservation estate? Of course not. Let us say a mine will take up 100 hectares. So that would reduce the conservation estate from 30.7358% of NZ to 30.7354% – a reduction of 0.0004%.

And how much income can be earnt from one mine? Well Pike River is expected to earn around $170 million a year of export income.

Overall there may be up to $240 billion of mineral wealth beneath our feet.

Now some are claiming any mining will undermine our clean green image and threaten our tourism industry. With all respect, that is hysterical nonsense. A reduction of from 30.7358% conservation estate to 30.7354% conservation estate will threaten tourism? Maybe if one was talking a 1% to 5% reduction, people might notice, but they won’t.

Just apply the common sense test to yourself. When you travel overseas, do you go to Wikipedia and check if there has ever been any mining on the conservation estate of a country you are travelling to? Do you think anyone else does?

Now this is not an argument for saying yes to every mining proposal made. They should be treated on a case by case basis, weighing up the particular conservation value of a location (not all parts of the estate are equal) and the likely economic value of mining there.  You’re not going to approve a mine in the middle of the Milford Track, but there are many areas where mining would barely be noticed. Again do it on a case by case basis.

There is a difference between a conservationist and a preservationist. A preservationist wants the status quo frozen for ever – preserved. They will argue passionately that every square metre of the conservation estate is sacred and must be preserved – that even one hectare less than the current 8,258,087 is evil.

A conservationist will look for the balance. They may say okay that 11 hectares of land has huge economic value. What if we purchased 500 hectares of land over there to replace it in the conservation estate. The conservation estate gets to grow, we get the economic benefits of the land’s economic value – a win/win. That is what we should look for.

Now some will argue all mining is evil and unsustainable and we should not do it. That is a valid viewpoint. However that viewpoint has consequences. It means less money for schools, less money for healthcare, lower wages and continuing a decline in the relative income gap with Australia and other countries.

As I said, I think one should take it on a case by case basis. The conservation estate is not something frozen in time. In fact generally it has been growing – as has the mining industry. One can expand both.

Tags: , ,

Enviromental Forum in Wellington

September 17th, 2008 at 9:55 am by David Farrar

Forest & Bird asked me to promote this meeting tomorrow in Wellington.

Tags: , , ,