17 Oct 2017

West Coast coal mine case heard

7:18 pm on 17 October 2017

The future of a coal mine being proposed on West Coast public reserve land near Westport is being argued at the High Court in Christchurch.

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

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

Rangitira Developments wants to create an open cast-coal mine on Mount Te Kuha, in part of the Westport Water Conservation Reserve and on 12 hectares of conservation land.

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

Forest & Bird regional manager of Canterbury and the West Coast, Jen Miller, said what was being proposed was an open-cast mine in an outstanding natural landscape, which was home to threatened species such as kiwi.

Ms Miller said Forest & Bird has been arguing in court that the Reserves Act required the protection of such precious places.

"Forest & Bird believes that the scenic, natural and biological features of the reserve should be protected," Ms Miller said.

Last year, the Buller District Council made the preliminary decision to allow Rangitira Developments access to the conservation reserve for the mine.

But in April it decided to rescind that decision due to uncertainty over whether it was taking the correct approach and the threat of legal action from Forest and Bird.

Now Rangitira Developments has gone to court, seeking a declaration that the Crown Minerals Act prevails over the Reserves Act in decisions about reserve land.

The lawyer representing Rangitira Developments, Mark Christensen, told the court his client had proposed a package of management, mitigation and enhancement and environmental compensation measures both within the reserve and beyond its boundaries.

Mr Christensen said that included undertaking pest control which would result in improvements to the types of flora and fauna found in the reserve.

"The considered wisdom is that, in general terms, if a company undertakes extensive predator control it has positive benefits for the bird life in particular, but also for lizards and so forth."

Forest & Bird lawyer Peter Anderson said in his legal submission, under Section 23 of the Reserves Act the council was required to "protect the features of scenic, natural and biological features of the reserve".

He said the resources of the reserve were not protected by allowing mining to occur on parts of the the reserve, while another part of it was enhanced.

"The reserve is not protected by allowing the destruction of some parts of it be offset by the enhancement of the reserve or other natural resources outside the reserve."

The case is being heard by Justice Nation, who is expected to reserve his decision.

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