Thursday 16th February 2017
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Trans Tasman Resource, which is making a second attempt to get consent to mine iron sands from the ocean floor in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, says the deposits are a "world-class" resource that could be lifting the economy.
“The iron sand resource off the west coast of the North Island is world class with enormous and currently untapped economic benefit for New Zealand,” said Mike Holm, legal council for TTR, in his opening submission to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision-making committee hearing.
TTR is seeking permission to mine titano-magnetite iron sands on the seafloor off the coast of Whanganui. The company, which is 55 percent New Zealand owned, proposes extracting 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year in order to export up to 5 million tonnes of iron sand per year for up to 35 years. Once the iron sand is extracted the remaining material is returned to the seabed.
The original bid was rejected in 2013 because of a lack of information about environmental impacts. At the time, much of the decision-making committee’s concern related to the way surplus sand that didn't contain iron ore would be returned to the ocean floor. In particular, there were issues about how plumes of sand returning to seafloor would behave in the often turbulent waters.
The proposed mining area is outside the 12-mile nautical limit in an area that migratory species move through, and a large undersea desert of iron sands in which there are strong current and limited marine life.
Over the past two or so years since its bid was rejected, the company has undertaken “significant additional work” and has refined and updated its application, said Holm. It has called on world-leading environmental experts to fill the gaps in evidence for the first hearing. So far the company has spent more than $70 million to get the project underway.
Regarding economic benefit, the company said the project will directly employ 227 staff, will contribute $159 million to annual economic activity, $6.15 million of royalties each year and $310 million in exports.
“In developing this resource, New Zealand has the opportunity to contribute significantly to its own economic growth and prosperity,” said Holm.
He argued there is no credible evidence from other parties of any effects that would warrant rejecting the project.
While he acknowledged the recovery of iron sand will have some impact on the environment he said all effects are “either negligible or able to be acceptably managed.”
“There are no effects which would warrant the decline of consent,” while there were significant positive benefits, he said.
According to Holm, the company will only mine approximately 5 square km of the 66 square km permit each year. He noted the sand extraction takes place in a very small area at any one time and is followed within hours by the return of the "de-ored" sand to the dredged areas.
Among other issues, he said a considerable amount of work has gone into analysing the characteristics and behaviour of the plume and its potential environmental effects. “These assessments confirm that the potential effects are negligible on coastal or inshore marine life, resources ecosystems or high-value sites.”
Those opposed to the project will have the opportunity to dispute TTR’s evidence over the course of the hearing, which will run until March 20. Those in favor will also present submissions and TTR will be calling 18 witnesses to support its claims.
On Thursday, lobby groups Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Greenpeace jointly said they oppose the proposed activity and submitted the application should be “ declined in full “ as it will negatively impact both the mining area and the area surrounding the mining site. In the submission presented by their lawyer, Duncan Currie, they argued it will change the physical, chemical and biological nature of the seawater and will degrade the quality of the oceans as a whole.
According to their submission, the “current application in no way overcomes the reasons the first application was denied.” They noted a groundswell of public interest with 13,000 submissions, more than three times the number at the first hearing.
The decision-making committee’s chair, Alick Shaw, underscored that the committee would not be influenced by the sheer number of submissions or the passion behind them. “In the end, it's the information and applicability of the law” that will hold sway, he said.
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