Forest & Bird is appearing in the Supreme Court in Wellington today against Stevenson Mining, the coal company planning an opencast mine on the pristine mountain top of Te Kuha on the West Coast of the South Island
The case hinges on whether the Buller District Council must protect the special features of the Westport Water Conservation Reserve, the area slated for the vast majority of the opencast pit.
In October 2018, Forest & Bird won a Court of Appeal case in which the Court held that the Council cannot enter into an access arrangement that is incompatible with the primary purpose of the reserve.
The Court of Appeal decision, as well as photos and drone footage of the area, are available here.
Stevenson Mining appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Crown Minerals Act should take precedence over the Reserves Act.
“We think that the vast majority of New Zealanders would expect that an area set aside under the Reserves Act would have its natural features protected by that act, not overridden by mining legislation,” says Forest & Bird Canterbury West Coast Regional Manager Nicky Snoyink. “If we’re successful in this case, the decision could safeguard other council reserves around the country from mining.
“This is also a particularly special reserve with intact forest and many threatened species. The Te Kuha area is home to great spotted kiwi, the South Island fernbird, the West Coast green gecko, and the largest known population of the rare forest ringlet butterfly.”
This case was originally set to go to the Supreme Court in 2019. But it was discovered that the reserve was never actually classified and the Supreme Court revoked leave for the case to be heard. The reserve has now been officially classified.
In a separate decision in 2018, the Ministers of Conservation and Energy refused permission for the mining company to include 12 ha of conservation land in the mine pit. The mining company has said it will seek a judicial review of that decision.
Forest & Bird has also taken a case with the Environment Court appealing the resource consents granted to the company for the mine.
“We now understand that this coal mine may have been put forward as something that should be fast-tracked as ‘shovel ready’ to avoid the usual RMA processes. That situation epitomises why we need environmental bottom lines in any shovel ready processes. We need an economic recovery that puts the environment at the fore, rather than leading further down the path to dangerous climate change.
“We’ve already led a long and hard battle against this particularly ill-advised proposal,” says Ms Snoyink. “And we’ll continue to fight against it – because of coal’s contribution to climate change, because reserves deserve to be treated with respect, and because intact pristine forest is the very last place New Zealand should be putting any sort of opencast mine.”