Stress over Fonterra coal plan takes its toll

ON THE EDGE: Expecting mother and former Fonterra supplier Aimee Whyte is comforted by her partner Brad Devlin as she struggles to speak through her emotions.
ON THE EDGE: Expecting mother and former Fonterra supplier Aimee Whyte is comforted by her partner Brad Devlin as she struggles to speak through her emotions.

The stress brought on by the prospect of a new coalmine at Mangatawhiri has put so much pressure on one couple they risk losing their unborn child, an independent panel taking submissions into the project heard yesterday.

Brad Devlin and Aimee Whyte, who have three daughters aged 6, 4 and 2, received a phone call from their clinic in Papakura before they were due to speak at the hearing, telling them there was a problem with a recent ultrasound scan.

"She's carrying at the moment and could lose this baby, she is under so much pressure," Mr Devlin said. "We've been called back urgently today because there is a problem with the scan."

Fonterra, through its subsidiary company Glencoal, is behind the new 30-hectare Mangatangi Mine to be located on rolling farmland between the old main road at Mangatawhiri and the new State Highway 2 bypass, and would be visible to passing traffic.

The Devlins stopped at the hearings at Mangatangi Marae before heading back to the neonatal clinic and Ms Whyte, who is in her second trimester, struggled to speak through her emotions.

She grew up in the house opposite Mangatangi Marae, and the couple reared calves and worked a dairy farm less than a kilometre from the mine site and had no plans to leave despite the effects the mine would have on her family.

But the pressure from the proposed mine had already taken its toll on them and Mr Devlin said it had ripped their community apart.

"I can't take any more. There's just too much stress on my family. It's all come from this Fonterra thing," he said.

The couple were Fonterra suppliers but Mr Devlin said that, with the botulism scare, the melamine scandal of 2008 and the new headquarters in Auckland, the mine application was the final straw and a move to the competition beckoned.

"I'm gonna sell the Fonterra farm and I've gone to Open Country on the other farm," he said. "I just don't want to be involved in it."

Veteran Mangatawhiri farmer Noel Hair has a 650-acre farm bordering the mine site and has put it on the market at a reduced price but has had no takers.

"I'm struggling to find people that are even interested in looking at it because we have to declare that the mine is proposed," he said.

He said the lost value of his property should be included in the submission and he felt his community had been treated like a pawn in a game between Fonterra and Solid Energy.

"We feel like we are being manipulated because they are saying to Solid Energy that we won't pay that money, we'll go and get our own coal over here," he said.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said the community had lost faith that mining companies could mitigate the effects on the environment, and she rejected notion that social effects and property values could not be discussed.

"Part 2 section 5 of the RMA says social cultural and economic effects, so tangata whenua can assert their cultural issues, and the community in terms of social and economic issues have an absolute right to say that they could lose the effect on their property values," said Ms Delahunty.