Consent has been granted to Fonterra to break ground on the dairy giant's new open cast coal mine - but nearby residents are refusing to give up their battle against it.
Glencoal Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fonterra, won the right to start work on the 30-hectare Mangatangi Mine site near Mangatawhiri in North Waikato.
The decision allows Glencoal to extract coal from the site for eight years, providing an additional 120,000 tonnes each year for Fonterra's milk drying plants at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
Independent commissioners David Hill, Jim Cooke and Maxine Moana-Tuwhangai heard three weeks of evidence from Glencoal and the Mangatawhiri community.
Their decision has angered residents.
Coal Free Mangatawhiri chairman Bill Morris was "gutted" by the news and said he would look at what they could do to stop it going ahead.
"We'll have a get-together and decide if we are going to go any further," he said. "We're quite willing to take it further."
The confirmation of consent would see the value of his rural property plummet and he said he would be unable to sell it.
"Six months ago it was valued at just under $1 million. Now, if you wanted to sell it you're looking at $600,000 - so you can't afford to sell it."
During the September hearings dairy farmer Brad Devlin told the Waikato Times he wanted to cut ties with Fonterra and go with the competition.
He sold his farm that supplied milk to Fonterra and said the hearings were "a show" and the decision a foregone conclusion.
"No-one ever felt they got a fair crack at it. Everyone said you can't beat Fonterra, they are just too big."
Mr Devlin and his partner Aimee Whyte were expecting their fourth baby and had grave concerns over the spread of dust to their home and local schools.
The commissioners said the community's health concerns where genuine but over-stated and Glencoal would mitigate the effects.
"It's very easy to sit there from your arm chair in an air-conditioned office somewhere. If it's one of your children getting crook or yourself, suddenly it's not over-stated."
Climate change was removed from the commissioners' agenda following a ruling from the Supreme Court that it fell outside council authority. Green MP Catherine Delahunty said it was time Fonterra moved to renewable energy sources.
"We are very disappointed that when our agricultural community relies on our climate that Fonterra, one of our biggest agricultural producers, is relying on a fossil fuel to fuel their milk product factories," she said.
Auckland Coal Action spokeswoman Jeanette Fitzsimons said the consent showed New Zealand law was inadequate.
"The panel acknowledged evidence from Coal Action Aotearoa's expert witness John Gifford, that Fonterra could use wood waste instead of coal, making the mine unnecessary," Ms Fitzsimons said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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