This week I spent 4 days in the Environment Court with some Waihi residents opposing the expansion of the mining activities in the Martha pit. It is a small variation on the 1987 Mining Licence but it could lead a new large scale underground gold mine. At the hearing, the manawhenua Ngati Hako were raising issues about the need to rest the mountain after it has been seriously undermined. The residents were arguing that 24 hour a day underground exploration with more blasting and noise was the last straw for them. Of course the mining company could afford experts in vibration and noise to prove us all wrong according to international standards of acceptability to the majority. But for me the testimony of the local witnesses made more sense.
The residents described the sleepless nights and the endless complaints registered with the company. Even following the complaints, the mine in a residential area so even if they try to be quiet there is still disturbance. We heard from some people about cracks in their houses and from others about being too angry to complain. We saw the complaints map and heard all about broken sleep and houses losing their value. The company lawyer was astonished that I was advocating that the consents be designed to protect the most vulnerable. He thought this was a ludicrous departure from the norm of protecting the majority.
But the most outrageous aspect of the whole case was the minimal involvement of the Hauraki District Council who supposedly represent the residents of the district in terms of wise resource management. They made little contribution to the process, called one witness and demonstrated no leadership on the issues affecting some of the people of Waihi.
I was proud to support the brave lay people who gave up their time to lay down a challenge about their future given that mining is expanding in that town. I don’t see gold plated streets, no beautiful swimming pool and no thriving cafe society, it has only been 25 years of digging and exporting this mineral.
The case wasn’t allowed to cover the ticking time bomb of the Baxter’s Rd tailings dump – 40 million tonnes of toxic waste and counting. But whatever the outcome it was a real education for me to be back in the Environment Court faking it as if it was “Boston Legal”, knowing we had few cards in our pack except our solidarity and our belief in breaking the silence that more mining won’t affect some people quite badly in Waihi.
The hearing was extremely well managed by the Judge and Commissioner but I won’t forget the tears of my friends and their friends when they told their stories. I salute their genuine courage and expertise!