It's not quite "we'll fight them on the beaches" but the gloves will be off at a marine consent hearing into Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) application to undertake an iron sand extraction project off the southern Taranaki coast.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearing starts in Wellington today. It is expected to continue until early May.
Those fighting to stop the project have cited concerns relating to effects on marine and coastal ecology, erosion, and consequential effects on local communities.
TTR proposes to extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment per year and process it aboard a floating processing storage and off-loading vessel. About 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate would then be exported.
If approved the operation would cover an area of 65.76 square kilometres, in an area called the South Taranaki Bight.
The EPA received 4848 submissions, which include 140 late submissions.
An EPA spokesperson said TTR's application was the first for a marine consent to be heard by a decision-making committee, appointed by the Board of the EPA, under the new Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) legislation.
So while it cannot measure the 4848 submissions against similar applications, it represents the highest number of public submissions received by the EPA since it was established nearly three years ago.
The next highest was 1271 for the New Zealand King Salmon farming project in Marlborough Sounds.
A large number of submitters opposed to TTR's plan used a form set up by Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM).
KASM chairman Phil McCabe said the EEZ legislation imposed "incredibly tight time frames".
"We're grossly underfunded. We weren't eligible for any environmental legal aid . . . so we have had to fund ourselves. "But given the circumstances I think we have laid out a good challenge for a small community-based group."
McCabe said the EEZ legislation was a "rebranding exercise" which asked the public to view oceans as money-making zones. "It's a perspective they are asking people to take and what I am seeing is people are reluctant to accept that."
He warned that the TTR seabed mining proposal would be the first of many. "So this is a precedent-setting case and the whole coast is very concerned about the outcome of this first application."
TTR chief executive Tim Crossley was determined to secure the necessary approvals to allow it to establish the country's first offshore iron sand mining operation.
"We look forward to participating in a rigorous public hearing process . . . We strongly believe that the local and national benefits of our project significantly outweigh any perceived negative environmental effects.
"We are confident that TTR has put forward the best available information and we believe the EEZ Act and the EPA processes provide a robust framework for assessing the effects and merits of our project," he said.
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