Hope as fossil site claims second mining company scalp

The company proposing to turn fossil-laden diatomite into an additive for pig food has gone into receivership, strengthening calls the land should be purchased by the Crown.

It’s the second offshore company hoping to mine the 23-million-year old deposit to suffer the same fate.

Plaman Resources purchased the 42-hectare site and mining interests it currently owns from Featherston Resources in 2014. Featherston had planned to turn the diatomite into fertiliser before it went into receivership.

Plaman Resources had trademarked the name Black Pearl, and said the diatomite was a food additive which made pigs, turkeys and chickens grow bigger. It said trials had been completed showing good results. However, would not share any trial data.

KordaMentha, the appointed receiver of Plaman Resources, said regulatory processes had taken longer than expected and the company “encountered funding difficulties”. Its directors asked receivers be appointed.

KordaMentha partner Neale Jackson said options for the company and its assets were being assessed.

“All options will be considered, ranging from recapitalisation to a potential full or partial sale of the company’s assets.”

Plaman Resources is listed by the Companies Office as in receivership and liquidation. Plaman Services is listed as being in liquidation in New Zealand and Australia with McGrathNicol identified as liquidators.

The company currently owns 42 hectares of land which contains much of Foulden Maar, and mining, prospecting and exploration rights in Otago.

Plaman Resources' application to purchase a plot of land surrounding the mine it already owned has been under assessment with the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) since February 2018. The company’s project timeline had expected the application would be approved and the purchase completed by December 2018.

The OIO confirmed the company was in receivership and liquidation and said although the application was now on hold, it would still accept third party submissions.

“Receivership and liquidation do not automatically mean that the application for the purchase of the land is discarded, however, the financial position of Plaman is relevant to the assessment of the application, including the likelihood of benefits occurring and whether the applicant meets the investor test.”

It’s not known if local contractors are out of pocket. It’s understood some drilling was done early in the year on land the company had prospecting permits over. A leaked report also said former MP Clayton Cosgrove had been employed as a consultant and had been lobbying to help secure approval for the OIO application.

Plaman Resources had waged an Otago charm offensive, courting the support of the Clutha District Council, the Dunedin City Council, local MP Clare Curran and offering scholarships to the University of Otago.

Discussions around whether the Provincial Growth Fund could be used also took place.

A processing plant at Milton had been proposed and Clutha’s council was looking at re-zoning land for industrial use.

The subject lines of 36 emails withheld from an Official Information Act request to the Clutha District Council relate to the $3 billion fund. The emails were between Plaman Resources, Clutha District Council staff and a former New Zealand First chief of staff who describes himself as a self-employed consultant specialising in government relations.

Along with charm there was also litigation and what some saw as betrayal.

Plaman Resources also applied to join seven Environment Court cases related to the Dunedin City District Plan objecting to clauses which may have affected its ability to mine.

The company fell from grace with University of Otago scientist Daphne Lee, and Dunedin’s mayor Dave Cull when a leaked report came to light.

The report indicated the maar would be mined in its entirety, leaving nothing for scientists. It was also condescending towards local objections:

"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 as Plaman Global would have."

Mayor Cull demanded the company give him a copy of the report. He said he was then briefly shown the 112-page document, but was not allowed to keep it. 

“They gambled. They lost.”

The news has buoyed the hopes of scientists and locals attempting to protect the site, although there is concern about what happens next.

University of Otago’s Daphne Lee has been involved in over 40 scientific papers related to Foulden Maar and has given around 80 presentations on the sites and the fossils it contains during her career. Previously she has worked with mine owners, but when she heard Plaman Resources intended to mine the entire deposit she voiced her opposition to their plans.

She said she felt disbelief when she first heard the news of receivership, she had suspected the company might run into financial problems but did not think it would happen so quickly.

“I think it is probably good news, but it would be really interesting to see what happens now.”

It’s a view shared by fellow Otago scientist Dr Nic Rawlence.

“It means mining by Plaman won’t go ahead, but it doesn’t mean mining in the future won’t go ahead.”

He sees the next step is to get the maar into public ownership and protected in perpetuity.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been vocal in her objection to the idea scientifically-important fossils and climate records could be destroyed. She thinks there are a number of options available

From the outset she has wondered why the site has never been a scientific reserve, saying at the time: “That would require the community that is very concerned about this going to DoC to start a process.”

This would require the land to be purchased by the Government. The capital value of the 42-hectare block is $365,000. Plaman Resources purchased it in 2014 for $650,000.

Dunedin-based Kimberley Collins of the Save Foulden Maar campaign has helped work to gain more than 10,000 petition signatures.

The petition calls for the OIO application to purchase the larger block of land to be denied and asks the government to purchase the land to create a scientific reserve.

Collins thinks the consistent public pressure played a part in derailing Plaman Resources' plans and opening up the door to the land being available for purchase.

“They thought we were too poor and too ignorant to put up a fight.”

Since the wider public became aware of the mining proposal, 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for the OIO to reject the application to buy the larger block of land.

The OIO yesterday shared news it had received 25 new submissions, or alterations or additions, to prior submissions. It said all of these new submissions needed to be assessed.

“I think it’s been a community effort and an incredible one." 

Collins said a planned meeting on Tuesday at the Otago Museum is still going ahead and is now more important than ever. 

Local Middlemarch residents Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader have been trying to stop Plaman Resources for over a year. While they also share the concerns of what’s next they said they were overjoyed at the news the company was in receivership.

“They gambled. They lost.”

Read more:

Foulden Maar fight rumbles on

Financial offers dangled for fossil mine support

Scientists reject fossil land swap

Southern discomfort at fossil mining plans

Answers from the fossil miner

Unjustifiable vandalism and grand promises

Fossil-dirt nutrition claims under doubt

Dunedin Mayor demands facts from fossil-mining company

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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