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Fast-track applicant to pay $216,000 for failed mine bid

Thursday 16 May 24 11:00am

Te Kuha mountain with Westport in the distance. PHOTO: Neil Silverwood - Forest & Bird magazine

 

Media release | A mining company that lobbied Resources Minister Shane Jones and RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop to be fast-tracked has been ordered to pay more than $200,000 in court costs. 

On 8 May 2024, the Environment Court released a costs decision against Stevenson Mining Limited in which Forest & Bird was awarded $113,000 and the Department of Conservation $103,000.


This is the latest in multiple court failures for the company, in its attempt to mine a pristine mountain top at Te Kuha on the South Island’s West Coast. 

 

Forest & Bird has also received a copy of a letter from Stevenson to Minister Bishop, released under the Official Information Act. The letter, from Stevenson Group deputy chair Barry Bragg, was sent after an undeclared dinner with Minister Jones. It contains several inaccurate claims and asked for the consents, turned down to by the Environment Court, to be "reinstated". 

 

Both those documents, and a file note summarising the facts, are available here, and the Environment Court decision along with pictures and video of the area are available here

 

“This highlights the concerns that Forest & Bird has raised about fast-track. In the absence of proper public scrutiny, allowing ministers to make unilateral decisions after lobbying, companies to make inaccurate statements, and projects declined by the courts to go ahead is going to lead to worse outcomes for the natural environment,” says Forest & Bird’s General Counsel, Peter Anderson.  

 

The Environment Court turned down the Te Kuha mine because it breached environmental bottom lines aimed at protecting nature. The mine would have resulted in the loss of a forested boulderfield described as unique in New Zealand and the likely local extinction of the rare forest ringlet butterfly and Helm's stag beetle. 

 

The mine would also have destroyed a wetland protected by the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), a policy which Resources Minister Shane Jones wants to change to remove this protection. 

 

One of the main reasons the Environment Court made the large costs award against Stevenson was that the approach to the case was “high risk” given the proposed mine breached national environmental bottom lines as well as regional environmental bottom lines that Stevenson had agreed to. 

 

“This is a project so bad, and so in breach of environmental standards, that not only did it get declined, but the company has also just had a huge costs award against it. And yet, after privately lobbying Ministers with inaccurate information, there is a chance it will go ahead under fast-track,” Mr Anderson says.  

 

Mr Bragg’s letter stated that resource consents and land access arrangements were granted, or almost granted, before being delayed on appeal by Forest & Bird since 2018, under new regulations introduced by the previous Government, specifically the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management. However, the access arrangement for public conservation land had been declined and was not “granted or almost granted”. The delay was the result of Stevenson seeking an adjournment after access to public conservation land was declined. It was not related to the NPS-FM.  

 

“The fact is that there may be hundreds of projects which can’t survive public scrutiny but could now get approved through fast-track,” Mr Anderson adds. 

 

Forest & Bird is calling on the Government to release to Parliament’s Environment Committee the final list of projects to be automatically fast tracked under Schedule 2 of the Fast-track Approvals Bill.   

 

"Our climate and our environment are at breaking point, and New Zealand already has the highest proportion of threatened species in the world. 

 

“Members of Parliament, and New Zealanders in general, need to be able to have their say on big environmentally damaging developments – especially when those are coal mines on conservation land, seabed mining, or dams that would flood native forest,” Mr Anderson says.  

 

“The fact that so many people submitted against this Bill shows that this is taking New Zealand down the wrong track, and that this is the biggest fight for New Zealand’s environment we’ve seen in decades.”

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