12 March, 2004
Mt Burnett dolomite quarry extension declined
Conservation Minister Chris Carter has declined a request for access to a nationally significant piece of conservation land sought for the expansion of a dolomite and rock quarry on Mount Burnett in Golden Bay.
Omya (NZ Ltd) runs the dolomite quarry, which spans over 128.7 hectares of Mount Burnett on the fringes of Kahurangi National Park. The company applied to obtain access rights over an additional 4ha of conservation land so it could extend its existing quarry.
"After considering the criteria laid down in the Crown Minerals Act, I have declined this application because the cost to New Zealand's biodiversity is simply too high," Mr Carter said today.
"Mount Burnett has an ecology of national and international significance. The distinctive geological and topographical features of the area have resulted in a very rare and highly unusual forest that is home to at least six species of shrub and sedge found nowhere else in the world but on Mount Burnett," Mr Carter said.
"The piece of land sought by Omya is a habitat for three of these species. Two of them are classified as nationally critical and the other, nationally endangered. The land also contains a significant population of a nationally endangered giant land snail, Powelliphanta. In fact an entire subspecies of this snail is located within a two kilometre radius of Mt Burnett and nowhere else," Mr Carter said.
"In making my decision I have concluded that the inconsistencies between the application and the objectives of the Conservation Act under which the land is held, the various purposes for which the land is held and the relevant management plans that apply over the area are sufficient to outweigh the partial safeguards and the compensation being offered by the company," Mr Carter said.
"To put it simply, approving this access arrangement would be like agreeing to the destruction of up to seven of the last 100 kakapo," Mr Carter said.
He said the company had offered a compensation package in which 14 ha of its current mining licence, also containing the rare plants, would have been voluntarily set aside from any mining in return for the area applied for.
"While I appreciate Omya's efforts, I cannot accept this arrangement because the advice to me is the company is not actually planning to mine the proffered 14 ha until after its existing mining licence for the area (ML32-1871) expires in 2006. Consequently, I believe it makes good sense to wait and explore the whole issue of dolomite quarrying on Mt Burnett again in 2006."
Mr Carter said the company had assured him that they had sufficient supplies of raw materials to keep working until 2006.
Media Contacts: Nick Maling, press secretary to Chris Carter, (04) 4706874, 021 890 170.
Mt Burnett – Questions and Answers
What was the access application for and why was it required?
Omya (NZ) Ltd operates a dolomite and rock quarry on Mt Burnett South in Golden Bay, close to Pakawau. It applied for access to four hectares of conservation land for a road that would enable it to access and quarry dolomite further up the mountain and also deeper into its current mine benches.
Because the land is conservation land, access approval had to be sought from the Minister of Conservation.
Why has the access application been declined?
The Minister decided that the conservation values of the land were so high that the partial safeguards and compensation offered by the company were not sufficient to off set them.
The company had offered to surrender another 14 hectares of land with greater conservation values from its quarry area in return for the four hectares. It had also offered to pay 20 cents per tonne of dolomite towards DOC's pest control on the mountain. However, the advice to the minister was the company was not intending to quarry the 14 hectares of land it was offering as compensation before 2006, when the mining licence for that area expired.
If the Minister had accepted the deal, up to four hectares of highly significant conservation land would have been either destroyed or damaged in exchange for 14 hectares that was under no immediate risk.
What is so special about the four hectares sought by the company?
Because of the distinctive geology and topography of Mt Burnett, a very rare and highly unusual forest has evolved in the area. The land sought by the company is a piece of this forest. It is a piece that is habitat to three species of plant found nowhere else in the world but on Mt Burnett. Two of these plants – Carex dolomitica, a sedge, and Melicytus Burnett, a tree of the violet family - are classified as nationally critical, the same conservation ranking as the kakapo. The other – Myrsine argentea - is classified as nationally endangered.
Carex dolomitica, in particular, is so rare that every individual plant counts and any losses are of concern. It now only grows over an area that is in total less than a hectare, and the plants are scattered within that area, they don't fully occupy it. If all of the Carex plants left in the world were put together they would cover no more than a small living room.
The land sought by the company also contains a significant population of a nationally endangered giant land snail, Powelliphanta. An entire subspecies is located within a 2km radius of Mt Burnett and nowhere else.
The natural values of Mt Burnett are such that they warrant national park status. The area, part of the former North West Nelson Forest Park, would have been included in the Kahurangi National Park when it was created in 1996 but for the fact it was subject to mining licenses and an access arrangement application.
What now for the company?
Omya has told the Minister that it has access to enough rock and dolomite within its existing mining licence to continue mining until that licence expires in 2006. At that time, the company has the ability to reapply for its licence and the Minister of Conservation would be able to look at the whole issue of dolomite mining on Mount Burnett again.
What is dolomite?
Dolomite is a form of limestone infused with magnesium which is used by farmers both for pasture growth and animal health reasons. The small-scale dolomite mine on Mt Burnett is the only commercial dolomite mine in New Zealand, although it can be sourced from overseas, as are all our phosphate fertilizers.