Seabed battle begins

16:00, Mar 09 2014

A "precedent-setting" hearing beginning today will decide the fate of a plan to mine ironsand off the coast of Taranaki.

The gloves will be off at the marine consent hearing into Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) application for the project, before the Environmental Protection Authority. The hearing is expected to continue until early May.

Those fighting to stop the project have cited the effects on marine and coastal ecology, erosion, and consequential effects on local communities.

TTR wants to extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment per year, processing it aboard a vessel.

About 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate would be exported. The mining would cover an area of 65.76 square kilometres in the South Taranaki Bight.

The environmental body received 4848 submissions, including 140 late submissions.

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An authority spokesperson said TTR's application was the first for a marine consent to be heard by a decision-making committee, appointed by the authority's board, 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 authority since it was established nearly three years ago.

The next highest was 1271 for the New Zealand King Salmon farming project in the 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." Mr 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 ironsand 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 Environmental Protection Authority processes provide a robust framework for assessing the effects and merits of our project," he said.

Taranaki Daily News