Forest & Bird goes to court over open cast coal mine on public land

Forest & Bird is going to court over a decision by Buller District Council to allow an open cast coal mine on 100ha of pristine public reserve land, near Westport.

The Buller District Council has granted access to Rangatira Developments Ltd to develop an open cast coal mine on nearly 100ha of public Water Conservation Reserve.

The proposed mine would remove the top of an intact forested mountain, containing rare species and ecosystems that are characteristic of Buller’s unique and extremely rare coal measure landscapes.

The proposed mine site (Photo by Neil Silverwood)

The coal mine would be clearly visible from Westport and the Lower Buller Gorge – an iconic tourist highway and the gateway to the West Coast.

“This ridgeline is one of the last remnants of the outstanding Buller plateau landscape, and is home to threatened bird and lizard species including the Great Spotted Kiwi, the South Island fernbird and the West Coast green gecko,” says Forest & Bird CEO Kevin Hague.

“This is yet another example of nature being ‘up for grabs’. Our natural heritage, held in public reserves, is being turned over to developers for private gain.”

“The Department of Conservation has described the mine site as being ‘one of two of the most intact remaining examples of this habitat type’. We’ve already lost Stockton and Denniston to the ‘boom and bust’ coal industry – isn’t it time to protect what’s left?” says Mr Hague.

Forest & Bird believes that in granting access to the reserve, the Council has not acted legally under the Reserves Act 1977, and yesterday filed in the Christchurch High Court seeking a judicial review of the decision. Section 23 of the Reserves Act requires that the Council administer the water conservation reserve in a manner consistent with its purpose.

Rangatira Developments is also waiting on approval to access 12 ha of public conservation land within the mine footprint.

“We will be watching with interest to see what the Department of Conservation decides in this case, given their own experts describe the area as having ‘pristine natural values’,” says Mr Hague.