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Bathurst Resources chairman Craig Munro has thanked shareholders for their patience as the would-be Denniston Plateau coal miner deals with "what seems like the never-ending appeals process that allows minority groups to stifle development in New Zealand".
Speaking at Bathurst's annual meeting in Sydney, Mr Munro bemoaned the appeals mounted by environmental objectors to the company's plans for open-cut mining of high-grade coking coal on the previously mined and ecologically significant plateau above Westport.
"This is obviously very time-consuming, costly and non-productive from both company's and the majority of New Zealanders' point of view, but under current legislation necessary."
The company was "actively working to reach a settlement with the appellants", the Royal Forest and Bird Society and a West Coast environmental action network opposed to coal mining.
Neither objector has given any indication a negotiated settlement would be possible.
"It is only once we reach our target production profile and our borrowing facilities have been repaid that dividends could potentially start to flow to our shareholders," Mr Munro says.
However, the company remained optimistic that appeals being heard on resource consent issues and climate change impacts would be over in the first half of next year, to allow production to begin in mid-2013.
The Buller coal project is targeting one million tonnes of coal a year from its first mine, Escarpment, and ultimately is targeting four million tonnes a year by 2018.
Mr Munro noted political support for the project from Prime Minister John Key. "Political leaders both want and need us to succeed."
Bathurst has faced criticism and impatience, particularly from Australian shareholders accustomed to less complex resource consenting processes. Its shares were steady today at 44 cents and have traded between $1.10 and 36 cents in the last 12 months.