Crowd gathers to protest lignite mining

POLL: Mataura was at the centre of a rare buzz of interest from across New Zealand yesterday.

A crowd of activists, politicians and interested parties from Auckland, Wellington and elsewhere converged on the riverside township to protest Solid Energy's lignite mining plans at the Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival.

They met with a contingent of residents potentially affected by the plans at the Mataura Community Centre to talk about why lignite should be kept in the ground.

With about 100 people at the centre, talks were given by Sid Plant, a Queensland farmer who lived next to an opencast mine, Russell Tregonning, a surgeon concerned about the effects of mining on health, and environmental scientists Peter Barrett, of Victoria University and Shannon Page, of Lincoln University, all opposed to lignite mining.

In between the talks, there were discussion circles where opposed residents got to speak to the guests.

Mataura farmer Andrew Johnstone, a landowner neighbouring the proposed mine, said he welcomed the support.

"It's good they are interested in this project even though it's not directly affecting them," he said.

Mr Johnstone was resigned to the mine being built, but wanted to know what the effects would be and how they would be limited.

The farmers who had sold land to Solid Energy had the chance to move elsewhere, but he had to live with whatever happened, Mr Johnstone said.

He was concerned people in Mataura did not seem to know much about the lignite plans and, outside of those directly affected, had not shown up to the event.

"People need to get more information; it's available if people look for it."

Roughly a third of the people at the talks were from the Mataura area, he said.

Barbara Mackay, another Mataura resident, said she felt the event was probably too one-sided. Only the "extreme outcome" was put across, which would hopefully not strike Mataura, with all the speakers opposed to mining of any kind.

"New Zealand needs to use its resources in ways that are acceptable."

There needed to be a collaborative approach that was neither pro-mining nor anti-mining, she said, but that would allow resources to be used without affecting the environment and the community.

"Both sides might have to move [and] come closer together."

Aucklander Phil McNeale had come down to Mataura for the festival.

A member of Auckland Coal Action, she said the whole country needed to be concerned about Mataura and lignite.

"We came down here to meet local people and to see if there was any way to support them in their efforts [against lignite]."

The Southland Times