Tuesday 12th June 2012
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Coking coal miner Bathurst Resources has be given October court dates for hearings against resource consents granted 14 months ago and opposed by environmental groups seeking to protect the Denniston Plateau from coal mining.
Bathurst's Escarpment mine project gained consents in August last year, prompting appeals from the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and the West Coast Environmental Network, both of whom say the open- cut mine proposal will destroy or disturb unique ecological systems on uplands above Westport.
A separate appeal process is also under way after the same environmental groups lost an application to have the consents struck down because of the impact of burning coal on climate change. The highly valued, low sulphur coking coal from Escarpment is destined for use in steel-making rather than combustion for energy.
Bathurst's New Zealand subsidiary, Buller Coal, will have filed its evidence by June 18, Forest & Bird and WCEN have until August 20 to file theirs, and a "caucus of experts" panel will seek to narrow down the issues for appeal between August 21 and September 17, allowing Buller Coal until September 24 to file any further evidence.
The hearing itself is set down for mid to late October.
Perth-based Bathurst's managing director, Hamish Bohannan, has previously complained about the length of time required to pursue resource consents in New Zealand, and described today's Environment Court appeal timetable as "a significant step forward" for a project the company says will create 225 jobs and is worth around $1 billion to the New Zealand economy.
The company accepts parts of the plateau are environmentally significant and should not be mined, but that much of the area is already heavily modified, as mining has been occurring on the plateau for more than a century.
Bathurst recently announced changes to its coal handling plans, which would no longer require a dewatering plant on the plateau, and would use an aerial conveyor system to take coal down for processing before export either through Westport or Lyttelton. The new scheme reduces environmental impact on the plateau and settled objections from residents in nearby Fairdown, who had feared the day to day impacts of the original coal handling plans.
Bathurst shares were unchanged at 53 cents immediately after the announcement to the NZX and ASX.
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