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Seafood Companies and Iwi Slam EPA Over Seabed Mining Application

The Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) handling of the application to mine 50 million tonnes of iron sand from the ocean floor off the coast of Taranaki, each year for 35 years, is being slammed by seafood companies and local iwi.

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) is opposed by Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Talley’s Group, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management, and Cloudy Bay Clams. Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust and a range of environmental groups have also submitted opposition to the bid.

TTR’s first application was refused in June 2014 after a Decision Making Committee appointed by the EPA found the application was premature and more time should have been taken to understand the proposed operation, its effects on the receiving environment and existing interests.

Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ) chief executive, Dr Jeremy Helson, says “TTR’s latest application is almost identical to the first, and does not address the EPA’s key reasons for refusing TTR consent in 2014.

“TTR‘s 2014 application was refused due to inadequate information, and adverse effects on the environment and existing economic activity. It is hard to understand why the EPA allowed TTR to resubmit a largely unchanged application” said Helson.

TTR’s latest application, lodged with the EPA in August 2016, has been dogged with controversy from the start. In a curious move, TTR sought to withhold information on the effects of the sediment plume from the public for reasons of commercial sensitivity. The EPA’s decision to approve withholding the information was over-turned by the Environment Court, on the application of the seafood industry, iwi and environmental groups.

Ruling against TTR and the EPA, Judge Dwyer found that “… the crucial nature of the [plume information] in informing the conclusions in the Impact Assessment, when combined with the public's right to participate effectively in the consent process, outweigh any trade secret or business interest of Trans-Tasman by a considerable margin.”

In a further twist, the released plume information has been the subject of intense evidential inquiry during the public hearing of TTR’s application. The EPA’s Decision Making Committee has directed each of the experts for submitters to attend two expert conferencing sessions and produce, in some cases, up to four separate statements of evidence to try to address inadequacy and uncertainty in TTR’s sediment plume information.

“TTR has a responsibility to provide robust information to support its application. Their failure to do so has seen the EPA directing those opposing the application to fill in the gaps. The extension of the process and continued re-submission of evidence has resulted in submitters incurring unreasonable costs to address the deficiencies in TTR’s application.

“Continuing to seek significant amounts of information throughout the hearing to address the inadequacies in the application has deprived the public of addressing their own cases in opposition to the proposal; this is hardly consistent with the Judge Dwyer’s emphasis on ‘the public's right to participate effectively in the consent process’.”

The hearing began in February and was initially to have ended on April 12. Instead the EPA extended the hearing to May 31 to address further questions concerning the information provided by TTR in support of its application.

“The EPA’s handling of this application has been a movable feast from the outset and they’re making it up as they go along. I think the way these proceedings have been conducted demonstrates why these types of applications should be handled by the Environment Court; not a quasi-judicial body appointed by the EPA and potentially subject to political interference” said Helson.

Closing submissions on the TTRs application are due to be heard on 24 and 25 May.

For more information contact Lesley Hamilton on 027 490 1345.