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Controversial seabed ironsands mining hearings scheduled for March

Just 11 of the 4,702 submissions on proposed ironsands mining off the coast of Patea favour the scheme, although a summary of objectors shows divided opinions in the fishing industry and conditional support from local and central government agencies.

The application relates to privately owned TransTasman Resources' plan to hoover up iron ore-bearing sands off the sea floor in a 65.76 square kilometre area , in the Exclusive Economic Zone, between 22 and 36 kilometres offshore, processing around 50 million tonnes a year of material over 20 years.

It has triggered the first public hearings under new EEZ law, administered by the Environmental Protection Authority. Hearings will begin in Wellington on March 10 and could take up to three months.

Of the 4,702 submissions received, some 99.5 percent oppose the plan and are mostly from private individuals. If approved, TTR will seek up to half a billion dollars in new capital towards the middle of this year to create a new iron ore export industry.

One in five submissions was received from submitters outside New Zealand, with the majority of these using an online form supplied by a local lobby against the proposal, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM).

The process would extract iron ore from the excavated sand, with spoil being returned to the ocean floor. TTR argues the process is orders of magnitude less costly than mining for iron ore on land.

Other applications for ironsands mining are possible, with offshore territory claimed by various would-be developers along the length of the North Island's west coast, which has been the repository for ironsands washed out of rivers from the volcanic plateau for millennia.

TTR's environmental impact assessment says the area where it wants to mine is relatively barren of sea-life and far enough out to sea not to affect coastal formations or wave action.

Large numbers of the submissions fear impacts on marine life, including marine mammals that are known to feed in the area, and on coastal erosion and surf breaks. While TTR has kept local communities, including iwi, informed of its plans over the last five years, Maori opposition to the plans is clear from submissions received from several tribal organisations.

However, opposition from the fishing industry is not universal. While the Federation of Commercial Fishers and fishing company Talleys oppose the TTR application, Talley's rival Sanford and the part-owner of the Sealord fishing company, Te Ohu Kaimoana (Maori Fisheries Trust), have supported the application, with conditions.

The Environmental Defence Society and ECO, another green lobby, oppose the consents, the Sustainability Council of New Zealand is recorded as expressing a view "other" than that the application be declined or granted. Greenpeace did not lodge a submission.

The Taranaki Regional and South Taranaki District councils both lodged "other" positions, with the issues they raise summarised as including economic issues, risk assessment, and ecological impact.

The Ministry for Primary Industries and Department of Conservation have also lodged "other" submissions, citing a range of concerns to be addressed including Maori interests, marine mammals, noise, benthic ecology, sedimentation, reefs and breaks, water quality, monitoring, bio-security, fishing grounds impacts and modelling of the sand plumes that will occur when spoil is returned to the sea floor.

Other issues raised include scepticism about economic benefits to New Zealand, given how much of the activity will be offshore and current mining royalty rates, along with concerns about the experimental elements of the TTR proposal and the company's lack of a previous track record.

Almost half of those making submissions have asked to be heard, including some 20 percent of international submitters who the EPA presumes won't make the journey to the hearings, which will be held in different locations around the country.

(BusinessDesk)

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