The Pike River coal mine

Carter's softdoc decision to allow coal mines in the conservation areas in Pike River


The upper Pike River catchment on the eastern side of the Paparoa Range is very high in conservation values yet Minister of Conservation Chris Carter has approved an access agreement with Pike River Coal Company.

They applied to mine up to one million tonnes of coal annually from the catchment. The DOC mining report on the application indicated that there were few good reasons to approve it under the Crown Minerals Act. It would be inconsistent with objectives of conservation legislation; inconsistent with purposes for which the land is held; and it would be inconsistent with conservation management plans. There were concerns about adverse effects of acid mine drainage and the New Zealand Conservation Authority and the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board objected to the mine, but the Pike River Coal Company had offered compensation of $1.5 million.

Letters to Carter.

Official Information Act complaint.

Ombudsman's response.

Complaint about unreasonableness and illegality.

Ombudsman's response.

I immediately wrote to Carter expressing my surprise at his decision and asking for his reasons for approving the mine when the DOC report provided reasons both for and against granting access.

Carter sent the report and then said he based his decision on the totality of the report. That can't be correct when the report made no single recommendation, and, on balance, had more reasons to decline than approve the mine proposal.

I wrote a complaint to the Ombudsman alleging that Carter was withholding official information - his reasons for approving the report. Then I wrote to the Ombudsman saying that Carter's decision was illegal and unreasonable.

At first Carter stated that there were no reasons other than those contained in the report he had signed. With a prompt from the Ombudsman, Carter later changed his story and stated that his offical reasons for his decision were in his press release. I had, no doubt naively, expected the reasons to be in the signed record of the decision.

However, unlike official information, the "reasonablesness" of Carter's decision as Minister, is not under the Ombudsman's jurisdiction. The Ombudsman suggested a judicial review of the decision if I still felt it was not reasonable. My point is simply this.

Given the information to the Minister required weighting of matters for and against, why didn't Carter decide in favour of conservation values?

Another SOFT DOC decision, another mine on conservation land.

Pike River Coal seem to be "steaming ahead", if their July 2007 Quarterly Report is any thing to go by. They even have a photo gallery on their website showing their intrusions into conservation areas.

Pike Stream conservation values Top

Pike Stream "is a relatively intact catchment" with high natural character and high "landscape and scenic values", it has "high quality aquatic habitat for threatened species such as blue duck, dwarf galaxias and long finned eel", the catchment is the "habitat for ten known threatened species, including great spotted kiwi, kaka and kakariki" (page 2 of Department's submission to Minister).

The vegetation cover consists of a mosaic of five distinct types; tall red tussock grassland; pink pine, leatherwood and dracophyllum mixed shrubland; 300 year-old mountain and silver beech forest; mixed beech-hardwood forest with kamahi, rata, tawherowhero; and lowland beech-podocarp forest, kamahi, red beech, rimu, broadleaf (page 5).

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