Port positive about coal trade after decision

JOHN ANTHONY AND FAIRFAX NZ
Last updated 05:00 24/05/2013

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A major coal trade through Port Taranaki came a step closer yesterday after Conservation Minister Nick Smith agreed to give access to Australian mining company Bathurst Resources for a new open cast mine on West Coast conservation land.

The news was cautiously welcomed by Port Taranaki, through which much of the coal would be shipped.

Last year, Bathurst Resources managing director Hamish Bohannan said about 75 per cent of its coal would be shipped to Taranaki and stockpiled in a new $1.5 million storage shed before being exported to Japan, Korea and China.

Port Taranaki property and infrastructure manager Bill Edie said the shipments would have "a positive impact on the port's bottom line".

Port Taranaki had no expectation of a time frame for when that may happen.

"We really have to be waiting patiently until the Environment Court allows them permission," he said.

From December 2011, Bathurst had been shipping coking coal from Westport to Taranaki three times a week on a small, 700-tonne vessel, but shipments had stopped for now.

Yesterday's move helps pave the way for Bathurst Resources to begin digging millions of tonnes of top-quality coal from the proposed 106-hectare Escarpment Mine on the Denniston Plateau, north of Westport.

The decision does not mean the mine has the green light, because the application remains the subject of court action by conservationists.

While Bathurst has a mining permit, its resource consents are under appeal and Dr Smith's access agreement may yet be challenged.

Dr Smith admitted the mine would damage conservation values on the plateau but a $22m compensation package, the largest ever negotiated by the Conservation Department, had swayed his views.

Mr Bohannan said the company was steeled for further appeals but hoped to get the mine operating in the second half of this year.

He was ecstatic with Dr Smith's decision.

"We're really pleased and excited. It's huge for the West Coast."

The mine would employ 225 people and create about 800 related jobs in the community.

Conservation groups criticised Smith's rhetoric, saying inviting only the mine's supporters, including Bathurst staff, to yesterday's announcement, showed his bias towards mining.

"Is he a conservation minister or a mining minister?" asked Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand regional field officer Debs Martin.

The conservation group and West Coast Environmental Network appealed against the mine's resource consents, granted in August 2011, to the Environment Court.

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After four weeks of hearings late last year, the court released an interim ruling two months ago indicating it would approve the mine, a decision the groups also appealed.

A three-day hearing on that appeal is due to start on Monday.

Both sides of the debate were very visible at yesterday's announcement, with opponents waving snail and anti-Smith placards and heckling the minister as he spoke, which sparked angry outbursts by some of the mine's supporters.

- Taranaki Daily News

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