Fiordland tunnel protest forces gather

CHE BAKER IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2012

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Protesters against the proposed 11.3km Milford-Dart bus tunnel united at the Queenstown Memorial Hall last night to discuss their concerns about the project.

Glenorchy-based group Stop the Tunnel and Te Anau-based group Save Fiordland hosted the public meeting to get more Wakatipu and surrounding residents to fight construction of the tunnel.

About 150 people listened to opponents talk about why construction of the tunnel should be stopped and the negative impacts it would have on the area.

Stop the Tunnel spokeswoman Amanda Hasselman said New Zealand's' clean and green image was being compromised in the overseas media because of the tunnel.

"Overseas media are already commenting our clean, green image is just a veneer," Mrs Hasselman said.

The $160 million tunnel would link Mt Aspiring National Park to Fiordland and be open to tourist buses, cutting the travel time from Queenstown to Milford.

Mrs Hasselman said granting the concession for the tunnel and allowing "Swiss cheese holes through the mountains" was exploiting nationals parks for private gain.

If Queenstown joined the campaign the likelihood of the Government saying no to the proposal would increase, she said.

Youth representative Grace Percy, of Routeburn Station, said the Conservation Department had become the "Department of Contradiction" by allowing a concession which "violated natural environments". It was disappointing the people living at both ends of the proposed tunnel were not being heard, she said.

Southland District Council public submissions hearings on the proposal were held earlier this year but the two groups wanted to gather more support against the tunnel in a bid to grab the Government's attention. More than 23,000 people have signed an online petition against the tunnel.

After the meeting, Milford Dart Ltd Milford managing director Tom Elworthy said the area losing its world heritage status was a "red herring".

Other much larger projects had been developed in Milford in the past. While he appreciated a small number of people had legitimate concerns about the environment and where they lived, tourism was ebbing, he said.

"You have a national businessman like Rob Fyfe saying tourism is in trouble, so I would ask these people, what is their plan B? Something needs to be done for the area," Mr Elworthy said.

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- The Southland Times

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