23 Nov 2017

'Everyone wants to see any job opportunity'

11:08 am on 23 November 2017

One of the new Conservation Minister's first big calls will be to decide whether a proposed coal mine on the South Island's West Coast can go ahead.

Mt Te Kuha mine site.

The Mt Te Kuha mine site. Photo: Neil Silverwood

While the coal mine has the backing of the local Labour MP, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage's Green Party colleagues say the mine will have catastrophic environmental impacts.

Stevenson Mining won consent from local councils this week for the coal mine at Mt Te Kuha near Westport.

It would employ 58 people and mine 250,000 tonnes of coal a year.

The West Coast Tasman MP, Labour's Damien O'Connor, said locals would love the jobs.

"Everyone wants to see any job opportunity and jobs in the mining industry are generally very well paid.

"They want the doors left open to all these possibilities, but of course often it's in the hands of investors, market price for coal and a number of other things including access to conservation lands," Mr O'Connor told RNZ.

The open cast coal mine will span 144ha, with 12ha on the conservation estate - meaning it needs approval from the Conservation Minister.

And while the Labour-led government intends to ban new mines on conservation land - it will treat this application under the existing law.

Ms Sage wouldn't comment as she was yet to receive the application, but this could be a point of tension for the Greens being part of a governing arrangement.

Earlier this year, the Greens' leader James Shaw asked then-Prime Minister Bill English about the proposed mine.

He questioned what he believed was the Department of Conservation's (DoC) weak submission on it.

"Is the Prime Minister saying that it is perfectly normal for nature's statutory defender (DoC) to not be particularly bothered by a proposal that will knock the top off a mountain, cut down 700-year-old Rimu, pollute the Camp and West creeks with mining runoff and discharge toxic dust and 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - is that not strange?" Mr Shaw asked during Question Time.

Mr English replied that the Greens were prone to exaggeration "to create a sense of catastrophe" and that if those actions were to occur "it would never get a consent".

Mr Shaw also questioned why DoC hadn't opposed the mine given it was a habitat for the great spotted kiwi.

Mr Shaw declined to be interviewed on the Greens' view on the mine yesterday.

But the former Green MP and now executive director of Forest and Bird, Kevin Hague, is urging the government to reject the mine.

"We see great spotted kiwi, we see South Island fernbird, West Coast green gecko, we have the country's most rare butterfly and open cast coal mining is permanent destruction of the ecosystem - it cannot be replaced."

Te Kuha mine would also need approval from the Energy Minister Megan Woods.

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