Forest & Bird reveals secret coal mining plans for outstanding Buller plateau

The most significant area for biodiversity on the Buller plateau is about to be opened up for open cast coal mining, says Forest & Bird.

The conservation organisation is revealing secret Government plans to carve up the unique and outstanding landscapes of the Buller plateau, and make the best parts available to a coal mining company.

“We’ve become aware of secret plans developed for the Ministers of Conservation, Energy and Resources, and Economic Development to identify areas for coal mining and areas for protection,” says Forest & Bird’s Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“The problem is, they’re planning to take the highest value conservation land for coal mining.”

A conservation area known as Whareatea West, on the Denniston plateau, is proposed for open cast coal mining. “This is public conservation land, and the most ecologically valuable area on the plateau – without Whareatea West the integrity of the whole plateau is lost,” says Mr Hague.

“Why is the Minister of Conservation, rather than publicly advocating for the protection of conservation land, instead working in secret to make that land available to destroy for private profit?” asks Mr Hague.

Another area with extremely high conservation values, the spectacular Deep Creek, is proposed for protection from open cast mining, but not necessarily from underground mining.

Forest & Bird is also aware of plans for a haul road (as wide as a four lane highway) to connect the mining on Denniston plateau to the processing facilities at Stockton. This will traverse the upper-mid Waimangaroa valley, with a series of open cast and underground mines along the way. The road and associated mines will destroy the last of a unique red tussock landscape on the Buller plateau.

“This plan is disastrous from a conservation perspective. These coal measure landscapes are unique and outstanding, and have extremely high biodiversity values. A number of threatened species live there including great spotted kiwi, fernbird, West Coast green gecko, as well as many rare plant and invertebrate species,” says Mr Hague.

“The Stockton plateau and the upper Waimangaroa has been devastated by coal mining. The Denniston plateau was supposed to be reserved for conservation.”

“We’ve already lost part of Denniston to Bathurst’s Escarpment mine. It’s time to protect what little is left.”

Forest & Bird says that government agencies are lining up these areas for the new coal company called Phoenix Coal, a joint venture between Bathurst Resources and Talley’s Group.

As part of its sale of Solid Energy’s assets, the Government is further sweetening the deal by throwing in new areas that neither Solid Energy or Bathurst previously had access to.

“These places are too precious to give away to a coal company as part of a fire sale of state assets. New Zealand deserves better,” says Mr Hague.

“Coal mining is a destructive, climate polluting industry, one that should be consigned to the history books.”

“It’s time to say no to any new coal mines on the Buller plateau.”

Note for journalists:

  • Phoenix Coal is purchasing the old Solid Energy facilities at Stockton – a sale which is before the Overseas Investment Office due to the fact that Bathurst trades on the Australian stock exchange.
  • The Bathurst-owned Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau was the subject of an intense campaign by Forest & Bird in 2012-3. The mine went ahead after an Environment Court decision, but was mothballed in 2016 due to a major user - Holcim Cement - moving away from the West Coast, and falling coal prices.
  • There are also plans to open cast mine a mountain known as Te Kuha behind Westport. Rangitira Developments Ltd and Stevenson Mining Ltd have applied for access and resource consent to remove the top of the mountain, which comprises public conservation land and a Buller District Council water conservation reserve.