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Call for delay in iron sands mining application

An environmental group has today asked for hearings on a company’s iron sands mining application to be adjourned over what it claims was a lack of evidence made available for submitters.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), one of more than 4700 submitters opposed to an application by Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to the Environmental Protection Agency to mine an area of West Coast seabed, delivered its submission on the second day of hearings in Wellington.

TTR is seeking a consent to mine 65sq km of exclusive economic zone seabed in the South Taranaki Bight for iron-rich sand particles, using large remote-controlled machines that would travel along the seafloor pumping sand to a processing ship.

The bid has met a strong backlash from submitters, 99.5 per cent of whom were opposed to it.

KASM chairman Phil McCabe said not enough evidence had been provided to submitters on the application before the submissions period closed in January.

The group said there was missing information in the original application, including the specific impact on marine mammals such as whales and Maui’s dolphins, and on fish and other fauna living in the surrounding environment.

KASM called on the hearing committee to request the company to provide the requested information and adjourn in the hearing until it had done so.

The group said that failure to do so would mean that the EPA would be “continuing in the face of essential missing information, disadvantaging submitters who need to know TTR’s position in order for them to formulate their submissions, and disadvantaging their expert witnesses”.

“This company cannot be allowed to mine the sea bed without providing ample scientific information on how this would affect sea life, not least when scientists are saying that this region could be a key feeding ground for the endangered blue whale,” Mr McCabe said.

KASM also questioned why one of TTR’s report authors, former Niwa scientist Dr Leigh Torres, whose report on habitat models of Southern right whales, Hector’s dolphins and killer whales in New Zealand, was not being put before the hearings as an expert witness.

Dr Torres is understood to be overseas and Mr McCabe said the hearing panel was considering his group’s request that she appear in person.

An assessment of effects on marine mammals, fish, zooplankton and squid, prepared for TTR and uploaded to the EPA website in late February, described the proposed site as being of “low habitat value” for fish and marine mammals.

The report said disturned areas would eventually recover after the mining operation had moved through and “residual impacts” were expected to be low and localised.

Report authors SKM said the impact should only affect relatively small numbers of fish.

They said a small number of seals may be attracted to the area to feed on fish, but noise level were also likely to deter marine mammals from coming too close to the facility.

Recorded marine mammal sightings in the South Taranaki Bight indicate that several species have been sighted relatively infrequently.

Extensive aerial surveys of the area commissioned by the company identified small numbers of common dolphins and fur seals within the study area, while habitat modelling of three cetacean species of conservation significance - Maui’s dolphin, killer whale and southern right whale - also predicted a low abundance of these species in the project area.

Another SKM assessment, on the impact on benthic species, said these communities in the mining area would be directly impacted, primarily from the extraction of sand and the placement of de-ored sand on the seabed via a submerged pipeline.

The report described these communities as of “low ecological significance”, and were distributed widely across the broader region.

Last week, TTR said it had reviewed all of the submissions and was “committed to listening to and sharing information “with stakeholders.

A wide range of concerns were raised in the submissions, with the majority of issues relating to effects on marine and coastal ecology, erosion and waves, and consequential effects on local communities, recreation, businesses, Maori interests and economy.

“We are continuing to meet with key stakeholders and others with existing interests to understand their concerns with the aim of working through key points of difference and to develop appropriate consent conditions,” TTR chief executive Tim Crossley said.

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