by Eugenie Sage
I visited Te Anau and Glenorchy recently to meet with representatives of Save Fiordland and Stop the Tunnel. They are working to protect Fiordland from Milford Dart Ltd’s preposterous proposal to mine a 11.3 km long, 430m deep tunnel from the start of the Routeburn Track to the Hollyford Valley and its destructive twin – a proposed 49 km monorail from the Mavora Lakes area to Te Anau Downs.
Te Anau is the gateway to our largest national park, Fiordland and 2012 is the 60th anniversary of the park’s establishment. 2012 is also the 125th anniversary of the creation of New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro.
It defies wisdom that both the tunnel and monorail development reached the public hearing and submission stage in this anniversary year because they were not rejected early on by the Department of Conservation, Minister Kate Wilkinson or her Labour predecessors. Both proposals are clearly at odds with the preservation and protection requirements of the National Parks Act 1980, national park management plans and DoC’s conservation management strategies.
Citizens groups such as Save Fiordland and Stop the Tunnel should not have to wage David and Goliath battles with corporates who want access to cheap public land for their destructive projects, particularly when DoC’s statutory plans contain strong policies protecting the parks against such developments.
One objective in the Mt Aspiring national park plan is for example: “To not provide for new roads or other land transport options, except for those required to facilitate access to departmental facilities in the front country zone…”
The plans were finalised after a lengthy and robust process involving initial public and stakeholder consultation, public submissions, hearings, and detailed scrutiny and consideration by conservation boards, the NZ Conservation Authority and the Minister. The Minister should be applying these policies, not pretending they don’t exist
National parks are protected from mining yet the tunnel’s impacts would be similar. Milford Dart Ltd wants to dump more than 250,000 tonnes of waste rock beside the Hollyford River. This would create an eight metre high eyesore and a potential source of acid mine drainage given the combination of unweathered acid bearing rock and Fiordland rain.
“Love our parks” is this year’s Conservation Week theme. “Love Fiordland” fabric banners decorate the street lights in Te Anau’s main street.
Former guide on the Milford and Hollyford Tracks and Fiordland enthusiast Ray Willett says he is too busy saving Fiordland to be able to love the park.
Ray’s first signs were mile markers on the Milford Track crafted from biscuit tin lids to show walkers in the 1960s how many miles they were from Glade House.
Today Ray’s large sign at the entrance to Te Anau highlights the strength of the feeling in the town against both the tunnel and the monorail. Both are aimed at transporting visitors as quickly as possible from Queenstown to Piopiotahi/Milford Sound and back again.
Tourists are not moles. Why would anyone want to travel 11 kms in the dark, deep underground and miss some of New Zealand’s most spectacular forest and mountain scenery and most of what has been described as one of the finest journeys in the world ?
Ray Willett’s challenge to Conservation Minister Wilkinson is to take the advice of W. Clement Stone:
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living life with integrity”.
Saying no to both the tunnel and the monorail would protect the integrity of Fiordland and Aspiring national parks and respect the public input into park management plans.