Dunedin mayor demands facts from fossil-mining company

Dunedin’s Mayor thinks Clare Curran and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan have got it backwards. He wants facts first and will withdraw support for a Middlemarch mine unless his questions are answered.

Mayor Dave Cull has asked Plaman Resources for an urgent explanation following a leaked report and articles about the mining proposal.

He disagrees with the view held by local Dunedin South MP Clare Curran and the Mayor of Clutha that debate can happen during the resource consents process - after the 400 hectares of land is sold to the off-shore company .

He thinks facts need to come before the deal and Curran and Cardogan have got it backwards.

Plaman Resources hopes to purchase land next to a property it already owns to make an open-pit diatomite mining operation viable. Approval for the purchase must come from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

Dunedin City Council provided a letter of support for the application.

The mining site contains fossils which were captured in a crater-lake 23 million years ago. These would be destroyed by the mining, which would grind them up to make a food additive for commercially-farmed chickens, pigs and turkeys. News of the potential destruction of important fossil records has alarmed scientists.

A leaked report written by Goldman Sachs, who has lent Plaman Resources almost $30 million, has raised serious questions for Cull.

He’s concerned the information in the leaked report is at odds with the assurances he was given.

“If we’re not satisfied with the explanations, we may withdraw our support.”

The letter of support was based on an “extensive briefing” the mining company made to councillors.

He said the robustness of assurances made in the briefing have been called into question by the leaked report and recent commentary on the mining proposal.

“They [Plaman] told us it was entirely diatomaceous earth. Some of the critics of the proposal are saying actually, there’s a whole lot of it that is a fossil record.

“From memory Plaman had said we will set aside a small part of it for research, but really it’s just a small part and most of it’s not significant anyway. We want some clarification about that.”

Cull said he’s recently learnt scientists believe the site could be more valuable as a research asset than mining for a stock food additive.

He said he was also under the impression Malaysian shareholder Iris Corporation, which owns 51 percent of Plaman Resources, would be removed from the company.

“That hasn’t happened. We would want to understand what the situation is and why.”

Iris Corporation and staff have chequered pasts which include allegations of corporate and political misbehaviour and huge casino debts.

Clare Curran told locals she supports the mining proposal. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Facts later, not first

Curran and Cadogan are both reported to favour the full story coming out in any resource consent process if the application to purchase the land is approved.

Curran has said because the OIO decision is pending, Plaman Resource’s hands are tied and it can’t comment publicly.

“I would like to convene a public meeting up there myself, but I want there to be the ability for the company to be able to speak freely. While the OIO application is in train, as I understand it, they can’t.”

Staff at Land and Information New Zealand told Newsroom this was not correct. While it has constraints about the information it can share publicly while assessing an application, the applicant is free to speak. 

Newsroom has made three attempts to contact Plaman Resources since it began reporting on the issue last week and has had no response.

Curran feels conversations can happen once the OIO application is approved.

“Should it [Plaman Resources] receive approval there is a resource consent process to be gone through where the community can have its input,” Curran said.

The leaked report shows a disdain for the success of local opposition against resource consents:

"Any appeal to the Environment Court is likely to come from a small number of local residents, who are not well-resourced and will not have comprehensive technical reports to the same extent Plaman Global would have."

Mayor Cull said the comment was in “an unfortunate tone and uncomfortable” and asked about it in his letter requesting urgent explanation on the points in question.

He disagrees with the stance of Curran and Cadogan to wait for OIO approval and debate issues in a resource consent process.

“I believe they might be getting it around the wrong way. You would want those reassurances before approval – that’s part of the basis for approval – the proposal aligns with the values and well-being of our community.

"I think it’s fair to want facts confirmed before we give it any support.”

Local residents Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader have been against the mine proposal for some time. They met with Curran in April.

At the meeting Bosshard asked Curran what her position on the mine was. Loader said Curran's response to the question was:

“I support it. I’ve done all the economic research.”

Bosshard and Loader are concerned at the stance of waiting for the resource consent process to hear from the company after reading the comment in the leaked report.

“We have to have the facts before a decision is made, not after it because then it becomes fait accompli,” said Bosshard.

They note there’s a precedent for consents not to be publicly notified in Otago. A consent allowing the destruction of a wetland was given to NZSki was allowed to go ahead without public notification.

A consent for the Foulden Maar mine regarding dust was also granted in 2000 without public notification.

Strong opposition

Opposition has been growing since Newsroom reported on the scientific importance of the site on Friday.

By Saturday, scientists banded together to build a Wikipedia page about the site. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark gave her support for preserving the site during the weekend and suggested it should be purchased as a scientific reserve.

A petition launched Monday evening has thousands of signatures.

Yesterday, in a strongly worded statement, the Geoscience Society of New Zealand’s Dr Jennifer Eccles asked the Government and Dunedin City Council to stop the proposal.

“The diatomite sediment that infilled this crater lake, 23 million years ago, contains the most extraordinary array of exquisitely preserved plant, fish, spider and insect fossils in New Zealand. These fossils are unique and record the previously unknown history and origins of a large portion of New Zealand’s present-day biota. They are all extinct species

“We cannot stand by and see this fountain of paleontological knowledge about where we have come from destroyed; particularly not for so little transient local and national gain.”

Read more:

Who is the fossil mining company?

Opposition grows to fossil mining project

Dunedin's 'Pompeii' to be mined to make pig food

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