21 Sep 2017

Environmentalists object to firm's coal mine bid

9:58 am on 21 September 2017

A 100-year-old company is applying for a new coal mine on the West Coast.

 The proposed mine site at Mt Te Kuha near Westport Photo Neil Silverwood

Mt Te Kuha, near Westport. Photo: Neil Silverwood

Environmentalists have objected to the proposal from Stevenson Mining to open a new mine at Te Kuha, about 12km up the Buller River from Westport.

A resource consent hearing began this week on the West Coast, after several years of exploration.

The Te Kuha mine would employ 58 people and mine 250,000 tonnes of coal annually.

Much of this would be exported for steel making.

Besides getting resource consent from the West Coast Regional Council, Stevenson would need consent from Buller District Council and approval from the Ministers of Energy and Conservation.

That is because part of the site is on stewardship land, which is administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) pending final determination of its use.

Stevenson's managing director, Mark Franklin, said in a submission:

"We are not relying on a theoretical analysis of projected coal prices in order to understand the viability of this project over the mine life.

"A 100-year-old family company would not risk its capital if a project was not viable. We know our costs and we know the margins we need."

The company also argued the mine would help a region hit hard by job losses, such as the recent closure of the Holcim cement factory.

Stevenson's application was strongly opposed by environmentalists including Coal Action Network Aotearoa.

In a submission, the network argued the proposed mine would damage the ecology

It said the use of coal aggravated climate change.

"There is growing international consensus that utilising coal is no longer a sustainable industry and puts our climate further at risk," it said in a submission.

"The effect of having a coal mine open on the West Coast will have a negative effect to New Zealand's global image and to the national image of Westport. This has not been taken into account in the economic assessments that form part of the [application]."

The Stevenson mining application attracted a series of submissions from the Crown.

In one submission, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment geologist Alan Sherwood said the area had a valuable 4.2 million tonnes of coal, in a seam 7m to 10m thick.

He said mining would help a local export industry that was already strong - 1,441,000 million tonnes of coal were mined on the West Coast last year and 84 percent exported.

But an expert witness appearing on behalf of DOC, Rachel McCllellan, said the area proposed for mining had significant birdlife, including the great spotted kiwi, whose habitat would be disturbed by clearance of vegetation to create the mine.

She also said mitigation measures proposed by the company did not have enough detail.

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