Dr Nick Smith to visit Fiordland

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith is today and tomorrow visiting the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks before deciding whether or not to approve the Milford Dart Tunnel.

In a statement, Dr Smith says: "This is a significant decision in which there are strongly held opposing views. I am taking very seriously my responsibilities to make a carefully considered decision." 

"I want to visit the actual site because at the heart of this issue is the degree of impact on the natural and landscape values at the head of Lake Wakatipu and Hollyford Valley.

''I will be visiting the site of the proposed roading and tunnel portals, walking the first section of the Routeburn Track that is most affected, and inspecting the Hollyford airfield where it is proposed to deposit the tunnel spoil.

"This visit is part of my consideration. Earlier this week I received and read a briefing report from the Department of Conservation. Last night I met with the applicants, Milford Dart Limited, in Christchurch. Next week I will be meeting with the hearing commissioner who considered the 1260 public submissions. I will also be seeking the advice of the New Zealand Conservation Authority prior to making a decision.

"I have received numerous requests from others wanting to meet with me over this contentious issue. I have had to decline requests as the legal process requires public submissions are heard by the hearing commissioner who is then required to report to me.

"This is a difficult decision. New Zealanders put a high value on the protection of their National Parks and few are as spectacular as Fiordland and Mt Aspiring. The area has the additional protection of World Heritage status. I need to consider the negative environmental impacts of the engineering works of the proposal but also the benefits of smoothing the current pulse of visitors at Milford.

"I plan to make a decision once I am satisfied I have all the relevant information and advice. It is going to be impossible to please everyone on this controversial proposal. My intent is to ensure the process is robust and fair and that my decision is well informed and consistent with the National Parks and Conservation Acts," Dr Smith says.

The Southland Times