Undermining Northland

By Dean Baigent Mercer 

In 2011 nearly all of Northland, including private land, public land and land under Treaty of Waitangi claim, was aerially surveyed for minerals without consent from land owners.

Three generations protest the threat of toxic hard rock mining of Puhipuhi near Whängärei: Kristi Henare, Connor Henare, 7, Ariki Henare, 10, Moana Henare, 5, and Thelma Connor

Three generations protest the threat of toxic hard rock mining of Puhipuhi near Whängärei: Kristi Henare, Connor Henare, 7, Ariki Henare, 10, Moana Henare, 5, and Thelma Connor

The government and northern councils paid for the mineral surveys then embarked on a publicly funded marketing drive to get international mining companies to tender for exploration permits.

Most public conservation land of high conservation value in Northland has not been assessed for ranking under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, which would protect it from mining.

In June five new exploration permits were granted to three companies – Te Tai Tokerau Minerals, Waimatenui Exploration and De Grey Mining. Far North District Mayor Wayne Brown is a director of Te Tai Tokerau Minerals.

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said there was no conflict of interest in Mr Brown’s company being awarded the permit to look for gold and other metals in the catchment of Whangaroa Harbour. “I am satisfied that Wayne Brown received absolutely no benefit or advantage from being the mayor of a local council,” he said.

Northland’s gold and silver is locked in rocks of ancient volcanoes. To extract the metals rock needs to be crushed to dust and mixed with water and cyanide. This chemical reaction separates the gold and silver but also frees heavy metals like mercury, zinc, cadmium and arsenic to become bio-available.

This toxic waste needs to be stored out of the food chain beyond timescales we can imagine. At least 18 tonnes of toxic waste is produced to make one gold ring and it is usually stored in giant dams near the mine.

A new exploration permit issued to De Grey Mining covers nearly all of the public conservation land of Russell State Forest. Only one per cent of kauri forest remains.

Russell State Forest is an ancient kauri forest remnant and is home to Northland brown kiwi and giant northern rätä.

It forms the catchments of the stunning Bay of Islands and Whangaruru Harbour.

A drill rig and other exploration equipment commissioned by De Grey Mining is expected in the Russell State Forest and the Puhipuhi hills, 30 kilometres north of Whängärei, in November.

During autumn, Reverend Thelma Connor, a Forest & Bird member and kuia of local hapü Ngäti Hau, sat in athree-week vigil at a picnic table surrounded by anti-mining signs on the side of State Highway One at the base of Puhipuhi hills.

She was surrounded by anti-mining signs, passing vehicles tooted their support and people from around the region dropped off food and other gifts and learnt about the threat of toxic mining.

And 74 year old Thelma’s motivation? “Clean water – there’s nothing more important”, she says.

“I have lived on the side of Puhipuhi at Whakapara my whole life and our family has drunk the water that comes from the spring behind my house for generations. We don’t want drilling. We don’t want mining. We don’t want a toxic waste dump. We don’t want any contamination of the water from mountain to the sea.”