West Coast councillor fights mining charges
A West Coast regional councillor is fighting eight charges over alleged illegal goldmining activities on public conservation land near Blackball, inland from Greymouth.
The two-day defended hearing for Allan Birchfield, who denied the claims, began today in the Greymouth District Court.
Department of Conservation (DOC) lawyer Mike Bodie told the court that the charges under the Conservation Act related to commercial goldmining on conservation land without authority, interfering with natural features and damaging or removing vegetation.
They covered three parcels of conservation land, including the Blackball Creek and Terraces Conservation Area, the Blackball Creek marginal strip and the Grey River Conservation Area.
The allegations relating to the two Blackball Creek areas spanned November 2011 to March last year, and the Grey River charges covered November 2011 to June last year.
A ninth charge was withdrawn today.
Bodie said people who wanted to mine conservation land needed a mining permit, issued under the Crown Minerals Act, resource consent from the relevant local authority and an access agreement from DOC.
Birchfield had goldmining permits for conservation land adjacent to the Blackball Creek area and covering the Grey River area.
He had gained resource consent from his regional council to mine near but separate from the areas he allegedly illegally mined or damaged, the court heard.
While he had an access agreement to mine some conservation land, it did not authorise mining activities in any of the three areas, Bodie said.
The first witness, DOC mapping expert Andrew Evans, gave evidence about maps of the areas where the illegal mining allegedly occurred.
Birchfield's lawyer, Colin Withnall, QC, challenged whether the maps were certified correctly and claimed they were unable to be admitted as evidence.
Judge Jane Farish disagreed with his argument and allowed the maps to be used.
Eight witnesses will appear for the department and two defence witnesses will be called during the hearing.
Birchfield is the third person out of the West Coast Regional Council's seven elected representatives to face the spotlight over alleged illegal mining activities in recent years, along with Ian Cummings and Bryan Chinn.
The council's website says its mission is ''to work with the people of the West Coast to sustainably manage the environment for the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of present and future generations''.
That included such roles as administering resource consents to regulate activities that could harm the environment and ensuring people adhered to consent conditions.