No tunnel doesn’t mean no monorail

23/07/2013

Nick Smith made the right decision in turning down the application for the Milford Dart tunnel through parts of Fiordland and Aspiring National Parks.

He now faces the equally tough decision over the monorail proposal.

I am in two minds about this project.

It would create opportunities for tourism and stop the overcrowding associated with the number of buses which do the Queenstown-Milford trip in a day.

And one of the men behind the project, Bob Robertson, has a reputation for doing development in a sensitive way with landscape enhancement a priority.

However, there’s a big difference between urban housing projects and this one in a largely undeveloped area.

Those wanting to ‘save Fiordland’ think the tunnel decision will strengthen their case against the monorail.

That isn’t necessarily so.

This is a very different proposal which crosses a conservation area not a National Park and the Minister will have to judge it on its merits.

 

 


Nick says no to tunnel

17/07/2013

Conservation Nick Smith has said no to the tunnel project proposed by Milford Dart Limited, through the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks.

I am declining this tunnel proposal because the environmental impacts are significant and beyond what is appropriate in two of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks and a World Heritage Area,” Dr Smith says.

The five-metre diameter, 11.3-kilometre long, one lane bus tunnel was proposed between the Dart Valley, adjacent to the Routeburn Track, through to Hollyford Valley. The $180 million project would have halved the travel time for the 420,000 visitors per year who visit Milford Sound.

“This is a significant decision and I have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. I have met the applicants, studied the major reports, sought thorough advice, visited the site, and weighed up strong views of both the supporters and opponents,” he says.

“There are three major reasons for declining this tunnel application. The first is that depositing half a million tonnes of tunnel spoil would permanently damage the natural and landscape values in Hollyford Valley. The second is the impact of the new roads and portals at each end, and particularly the impacts on visitors at the entrance to the Routeburn track. My third concern is that the engineering works and tunnel are inconsistent with the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park Management Plans.

“I also have concerns about the economic viability and safety of this tunnel proposal. These issues are interrelated in that making a long narrow tunnel safe requires huge investment in ventilation and emergency systems. I am not satisfied that the tunnel can be safely built for a price that makes it economically viable. The risk for the Government under these circumstances is that corners are cut or the project is left half-completed with a clean-up liability for the public.

“Milford Dart Ltd late last week outlined an alternative tunnel that would be approximately two kilometres longer and which would relocate the eastern portal about three kilometres south east. This is a significantly different proposal on which I have not received any technical advice, and of which neither the public nor the hearing commissioner has had the opportunity to consider. I have determined that I have insufficient information to make a decision on this alternative.

“I appreciate my decision will be a disappointment to the applicants and their supporters. I do not in any way criticise them for their entrepreneurial spirit or ambition to ease access for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Milford Sound. This is a conservative decision in which I have decided that nature deserves the benefit of any doubt.”

When I first heard of this proposal I wondered about the safety of a tunnel built near the alpine fault line.

Safety is one of the issues the Minister took into account but he also took into account conservation values and decided, rightly I think, that these should take precedence over possible economic gains.

I am not opposed to any and all development in National Parks but think the impact of this one could not have been justified by the negative impact on the area.


Minister to decide Milford projects

25/02/2013

Conservation Minister Nick Smith will decide the fate of two projects seeking concessions for development in Fiordland National Park.

Proposals for the Milford Dart Tunnel through Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks and the Fiordland Link Experience of a catamaran, all-terrain vehicle track and monorail through the Snowdon Forest are major development projects.

” . . . I have decided that given the scale of these Fiordland projects and the huge public interest it is not appropriate for these decisions to be delegated to a departmental official. These are public lands and it is proper that these decisions are made by a publicly elected and accountable official,” Dr Smith says.

This decision is consistent with the powers of delegation dating back to 1997, where the Director-General of Conservation shall refer matters of national interest, or involving significant environment, social or economic implications, to the Minister.

“The decisions on the Milford Dart Tunnel and Fiordland Link Experience will be difficult. Parks and reserves are much loved areas of New Zealand set aside for conservation and recreation. There is a particularly high threshold for projects in our National Parks. However, New Zealand also needs jobs and economic development.

“I have taken advice on ensuring a robust process. My primary advisor will be the Department of Conservation and its advice will be a matter of public record. I expect to receive the Department’s reports on the Milford Dart Tunnel soon and on the Fiordland Link Experience in the next few months.

“I will visit the affected areas and meet with the commissioners who heard the public submissions after I have received each Departmental report. I also intend to meet with the applicants of each project and seek the advice of the New Zealand Conservation Authority before making a decision.

“I will be taking a careful and considered approach and I am very conscious of the importance of coming to a fair and balanced decision.”

Both proposals have attracted a lot of opposition.

The minister will be in for a lot of lobbying.


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