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Court Allows Gold Mining In Coromandel – But Battle With Environmentalists Not Over         Chris Mole - Associate Editor

August 11, 2004

The Environment Court has re-opened the door to gold mining in the Coromandel, quashing the local council’s move to ban it and igniting a fresh battle with environmentalists who are vowing to fight the decision. There’s an estimated $10bn worth of gold beneath the ground in the Coromandel district.

The Court decision means mining companies will be able to seek resource consents to dig for gold, which will become a discretionary activity. But the mining industry expects several more years’ delay before any exploration for gold will start, due to a condition in the Court ruling requiring the industry, the District Council and environmentalists to thrash out new rules for mining in the District Plan.

Minerals Industry Association spokesman Peter Atkinson expects more obstruction from the anti-mining Coromandel Watchdog group, who may yet appeal the Court decision. Even if they don’t appeal, Atkinson envisages it will take up to a decade to settle conditions with all the parties involved. But he regards the Court ruling as a landmark in the bitter battle between gold mining companies and environmentalists, which has been raging for many years in the Coromandel.

“At least the court has ruled decisions (on mining) must be effects-based, as required under the RMA. It is essentially saying mining must be treated the same as any other industry.”

The environmental movement won a victory in 1997 when an amendment to the Crown Minerals Act banned mining on Department of Conservation land in the Coromandel.
The following year the Thames Coromandel District Council tried to ban mining in its proposed District Plan. The mining industry appealed and the case went to the Environment Court in May.

The Court ruling reclassifies underground mining on private land as a discretionary activity in all areas. It rules out surface mining in certain areas, such as some coastal and urban areas.

Judge C J Thompson says excluding mining from large tracts of the peninsula reflects an attitude towards the industry which is inconsistent with other activities that can produce adverse environmental effects. He adds to make an activity “prohibited” is “a distinct exception to the permissive, effects based philosophy of the (RMA).”

Environmentalists claim the Court ruling ignores public opinion and threatens the Coromandel’s tourist image as a “green” resort. They believe underground mining spoils the area by causing dust, vibration, noise and acid seepage. Coromandel Watchdog spokesman Mark Tugendhaft says the group “will look for any points of law that will allow us to appeal... We must fight to save the Coromandel.” 

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