Nick Smith Avoids Meeting Save Fiordland Inc


When the Fiordland road tunnel and monorail were first proposed, Te Anau residents felt secure in the view that they were such obviously flawed schemes that they would be quickly rejected. Their feelings of security based on DoCs past record were dashed when both schemes gained initial approval. Under a National led Government the purpose of the Department had changed from "Nature was to be protected for its own sake and protected for New Zealanders and future generations to enjoy" to "Conservation leadership for a prosperous New Zealand". Save Fiordland Incorporated was quickly formed and with the experienced Prof Alan Mark (from the iconic Save Manapouri campaign and Wise Response) as patron, the society leapt into action.

The once all powerful management plans that used to dictate all activities in national parks have been quietly laid to one side as commercial interests are welcomed with open arms. Small operators found that they still had extremely rigorous bureaucracy to negotiate but the lack of rigour applied to these large ventures was both unfair and potentially dangerous. When our conservation estate was intended to be protected primarily for New Zealanders and our future generations, the tourist bus tunnel and monorail will mainly serve wealthy tourists and diminish the natural experience of the region for the rest of us.

The bias towards commercial activity and against environmental concerns has been a defining aspect of this Government. The sacking of ECan, the attacks on environmental scientists, the abandonment of our  comprehensive environmental reporting and the enthusiasm for accessing our conservation estate for fossil fuel are examples of a clear agenda. Under this Government economic factors trump the environment every time. The value of Fiordland as a World Heritage area was obviously not considered by the Government as UNESCO was not informed about the tunnel or monorail proposals, or how it could effect the heritage status.

Save Fiordland Inc have had the tunnel and monorail proposals viewed by those with knowledge of tunneling and engineering and they have been surprised at the limited technical understanding demonstrated for both projects. Basic errors are common (the stated length of the tunnel varies considerably) and there is clear misinformation on the true extent of the width of forest and vegetation clearance needed for the monorail. The costing of the schemes are wildly inaccurate (on the cheap side) and it is likely that neither proposer intend to do the work themselves but just acquire the concession for another investor. The costs of maintaining the roads on either side of tunnel and monorail and the mitigation of environmental damage, if either project failed, would fall on taxpayers.

There was some surprise at the minimal scrutiny that DoC had appeared to apply to the projects before giving initial approval and Save Fiordland Inc have revealed a process coverup that is of a similar level to the appalling Sky City deal. DoC had employed Wildland Consultants to review the Riverstone Holdings Ltd's monorail proposal and their report was a damning one. In their final conclusions they state:

"The MP reports are more deficient with respect to identification of the likely effects of the monorail development, and we conclude that these have been under-estimated. The MP reports tend to minimise monorail development effects, rather than giving a worst case, or even a likely scenario. Considerable effort has been put into obtaining vegetation plot information, which samples a very small proportion of the affected area, and cannot be relied on to adequately represent forest structure. More effort on detailed monorail and construction road design and incorporation of better topographical information and spatial information on the location of significant trees is needed to provide a more accurate assessment of the potential effects of the proposal. The envelope approach used by the applicant does not allow these effects to be quantified."

And:

"Mitigation is proposed for adverse effects on indigenous fauna populations, but these proposals are not sufficiently detailed to assess their value. Loss of large red beech trees and tussock grassland cannot be remedied, and if unable to be avoided, will need to be mitigated, for example by protecting and/or enhancing similar unprotected ecosystems. Statements on rehabilitation lack detail and are unsubstantiated by supporting evidence. Rehabilitation will pose significant practical difficulties in open habitats. Indigenous grassland rehabilitation will be practically impossible to implement, and exotic dominance of disturbed sites in these grasslands is virtually guaranteed."

This report is not found on the DoC website and was not available for those wishing to write submissions to the proposal. The only environmental management reports available are those commissioned by the applicant, RHL. The tunnel proposal is even more fantastical, with engineers incredulous with the lack of technical detail contained in the proposal. No seismic survey has been done (when the area is prone to such activity) and there is no safety management plan for when the tunnel is complete. The initial plan for dealing with the spoil was to extend and raise (by eight metres) an existing small runway in the Hollyford Valley that is rarely used. The apparent assistance provided by DoC is extraordinary when neither proposal fits their own management plan:

"A proposal for an amenity area should demonstrate that it is for the development and operation of recreational or public amenities appropriate for public use and enjoyment of Fiordland National Park, and that these could not be located outside of Fiordland National Park."

"Fiordland has its own special attributes, including large tracts of wilderness and remote country. Maintaining these wilderness/remote values should be accorded priority in the visitor management of Fiordland National Park."

"It is also important to recognise that Fiordland National Park is managed to reflect its international importance as a World Heritage Area. A component of this classification is the role of Fiordland as a “wilderness” of national and international significance. The effects of visitor management must be considered in this context, not just in terms of its importance in the regional and national New Zealand environment."

The Hollyford Valley could become a major construction site.

Nick Smith has replaced Kate Wilkinson as Minister of Conservation and he has stated that he will personally make the final decision on the two proposals. Save Fiordland is concerned that although the Minister does have a genuine interest in conservation he has refused to meet with them and the Stop the Tunnel group based in Glenorchy. The Minister is meeting with the two proposers and DoC, but not with representatives of the two communities who will be most directly affected by the projects, to inform his decisions. Glenorchy residents were particularly annoyed that any submissions on the tunnel project could only involve the environment immediately around the tunnel and not on the impacts on the closest community.

New Zealand exporters are largely dependent on our clean green image (around 75%) and most of this is based on the images of Fiordland and its World Heritage status. I am worried that the National led Government hasn't learned its lesson from the demise of Solid Energy (and their half baked schemes) and yet again New Zealand will be subjected to short sighted thinking for limited commercial gain and long term environmental pain.


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