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Environment Court orders ironsands miner to unseal confidential evidence

Tuesday 8th November 2016

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The Environment Court has ordered would-be seabed ironsands miner Trans Tasman Resources to make public large amounts of evidence relating to the environmental impacts of its plans to mine iron ore off the coast of Whanganui.

TTR had redacted large chunks of new evidence it included in its second application for a marine mining consent from the Environmental Protection Authority under the new regulatory regime governing New Zealand's extensive offshore Exclusive Economic Zone.

The company's first attempt to gain such permissions failed in 2014 when a decision-making committee (DMC) appointed by the EPA ruled that the environmental impacts of the proposal were too difficult to gauge on the evidence available.

Rather than abandon a project on which it had already spent some $60 million and seven years pursuing, TTR opted to begin again, and has invested in further research into the environmental impacts of scooping up some 50 million tonnes of ironsands annually from a relatively barren expanse of seabed some 22-to-36 kilometres off the west coast of the lower North Island.

Much of the DMC's concern related to the way surplus sand that didn't contain iron ore would be returned to the ocean floor. In particular, there was concern about how plumes of sand returning to seafloor would act in the often turbulent waters.

In an oral decision in Wellington, Environment Court judge Brian Dwyer ordered the redacted portions of evidence be made public, following an application from opponents of the scheme who claimed their ability to make submissions was hampered by lack of access to so much of the new evidence.

Judge Dwyer rejected the company's argument that the redacted portions were sufficiently commercially sensitive to warrant withholding from a public submissions process.

A TTR spokeswoman told BusinessDesk the company was reviewing its appeal options.

The DMC has yet to indicate whether next Monday's deadline for submissions on the TTR proposal will be extended under the tight timelines required of consent hearings relating to EEZ applications.

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