Monorail project risky for environment and investors

There has been a spate of media articles about the proposed $200 million Southland monorail recently after its Riverstone Holdings director and Bob Robertson gave journalists a promotional tour and helicopter ride over the area.

The company is engaged in a heavy PR campaign by claiming public support for the proposal. Save Fiordland’s 20,000 strong petition against the proposal is a more reliable indicator of public views than market research where the polling questions omitted key information, such as that the monorail is proposed on conservation land in Snowdon Forest in the heart of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.Snowdon Forest from Mavora Lakes Road

Spending $200 million on a monorail which would see more than 1700 old growth beech trees felled and a swathe bulldozed through forest that offers magnificent family tramping in the Kiwiburn valley would create a conservation nightmare.  Major earthworks would be required on steep hill slopes risking and substantial bridges over often turbulent rivers such as the Upukerora. Submitters on the concession application described these impacts in some detail.

If Conservation Minister Nick Smith approves the monorail, he would be signalling that conservation land outside national parks is open for any kind of commercial business, regardless of its ecological impacts and financial risks.  The monorail is as risky and damaging as its Routeburn tunnel twin so the Minister needs to make a similar decision.

Kiwiburn Hut Snowdon ForestRiverstone director Bob Robertson bailed on his Pegasus township development north of Christchurch now in receivership. The Department of Conservation needs to be very wary of the risks and environmental damage involved if the project is approved, logging done and earthworks started and then it is abandoned because of funding difficulties.  A bond even a sizeable one could never compensate for the loss of intact forest.

With the Government having to virtually bribe buyers of Meridian shares with a pay later share option, will New Zealand investors stump up for such a risky and controversial project as the monorail?  It’s likely that a large chunk of the $200 million capital needed will come from offshore. Our old growth beech forests and mohua/yellowhead habitat should not be sacrificed to provide a source of cheap land for New Zealand or overseas corporates.

Tourists can already travel across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station and down the existing Mavora Lakes Road to join the state highway to Te Anau and Milford without the monorail. It would cut a 41 km corner but the problem is, it cuts it at the expense of intact and centuries old beech forest.

I visited the Treetops Walkway at Lake Mahinapua south of Hokitika recently. Using steel towers and elevated catwalks high in the forest canopy it offers visitors a new experience – getting up close and personal with many small perching plants high on the rimu trees such as lichens, native flowering orchids.Snowdon Forest  track near Kiwiburn Hut (2)

The company’s Australian owners have spent more than $7.2 million on the project. The walkway itself with its big steel towers is on conservation land in the Lake Mahinapua scenic reserve with the associated café and shop on adjacent private land.  In the 10 months since it opened the walkway has had more than 30,000 visitors, significantly fewer than anticipated.  The scale of the spend here is much less than that required for the monorail and most of the canopy trees are still standing but it shows how developers can over-estimate their market.

Claims by the monorail promoters that they could attract 300,000 to a million visitors annually are dreaming. And they raise the bigger issue do we want that many tourists on whistle-stop visits where they get no chance to enjoy what makes New Zealand special?

6 thoughts on “Monorail project risky for environment and investors

  1. Why is the Green Party attacking, so virulently, a monorail that will cross a bit of state forest, and go nowhere near a National Park.
    Where is the attention that should be being given to the ecological disaster that is currently taking place in the Tongariro National Park?
    Enormous quantities of diesel fuel are being spilled and the water supply for the town of Raetihi is unusable, possibly for years.
    I believe that the Green Party, rather than complaining about a monorail crossing previously farmed land, should be demanding the restoration of the unspoiled National park.
    How about a policy that, if they become part of the Government, they will remove, within the first term, all the wilderness destroying construction within the Tongariro National Park.
    This means the removal of all accomodation in the form of ski club huts, all ski lifts and all roads within the park. They would also remove the Chateau hotel and the roads leading to it. A few skiers may not be happy but cross country skiing will still be allowed. The lazy approach of visually polluting ski-lifts no longer being available is a very small sacrifice.
    For people visiting the park there will be a visitor centre and parking provided OUTSIDE the boundaries.
    Come on Green Party! Restore the pristine beauty of this horribly polluted park.

  2. dbuckley says “Come down to Canty, we’ve got far more trees than that lying around at the moment :) Of course, not all of them are old, and many not beech…”

    All the way from North Otago to Marlborough – windbreaks and even whole plantations are down. Just drove the route and rtn in the last week

    Similarly, every time there is an earthquake in Fiordland it takes out vastly more trees than the monorail ever will.

    As for Eugenie’s claim that the monorail goes through the heart of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area – you can see for yourself that the Queenstown – Te Anau Downs route does not go through the “heart” of the world heritage area –
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/about-doc/role/international/te-wahipounamu-world-heritage-area-map.pdf

    And now the Greens are also giving out investment advice that the monorail will be a bad investment because the government is selling Meridian cheap?

    That’s absurd in the extreme. It makes as much sense as saying because one company is doing well/badly, a completely unrelated company in a completely unrelated industry will do well/badly.

    The biggest concern with the monorail (and more so with the earlier tunnel proposal) is a single company getting near monopoly control over tourists visiting Milford Sound to the detriment of everyone else

  3. Save Fiordland’s 20,000 strong petition against the proposal is a more reliable indicator of public views than market research where the polling questions omitted key information, such as that the monorail is proposed on conservation land in Snowdon Forest in the heart of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

    You are, of course, taking the piss? I’ve yet to see a petition that offers a for and against option to tick…

    …see more than 1700 old growth beech trees felled

    Come down to Canty, we’ve got far more trees than that lying around at the moment :) Of course, not all of them are old, and many not beech…

  4. I really quite like monorail systems. And the Greens do to, or at least they should do; they are almost always electrically powered, have a small footprint, are quiet, and are cool.

    I’m in favour of people taking the electric train over taking their cars.

  5. Thank you for this information. I am amazed that people like Bob Robertson seem to think they’re entitled to exploit conservation land to make themselves a lot of money. I’ll be writing to Nick Smith asking him to stop this foolhardy project. I’ll thank him for stopping the tunnel and ask him to do the right thing again.

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