Environment Waikato has granted resource consents to Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd to continue its coal mining activity at Rotowaro with the development of the Awaroa 4 mine.
The company had applied for water takes, earthworks and discharge consents to extend its existing mining operations from the current location of operations to an adjacent part of its existing Coal Mining Licence. The limited notification attracted four submissions from Bush Tramway Club and Straker Farm in support, and MacDougall Mining Company Limited neutral and Waikato Raupatu Trustee Company in opposition.
Requests were received from Waahi Whaanui Trust, Forest and Bird New Zealand and Greenpeace to appear or speak at the hearing and the Hearing Committee agreed to hear them on a ‘without prejudice’ basis.
The proposed coal mining at the Awaroa-4 site is an extension of existing mining operations, starting at the southern end near the old Waipuna pit. It would move to the north-west to join the existing Awaroa-3 pit. A diversion of a section of the Mangakotukutuku Stream was required to flow around the active mining area.
The mine would primarily use existing infrastructure, including coal handling and load-out facilities, however, a new coal haul road would be constructed, along with new overburden haul roads from the Awaroa-4 Opencast to the Waipuna and Township pits. All stormwater and groundwater seepage would be diverted to either the existing Central Treatment Plant (CTP) or the existing Waipuna Treatment Plant (WTP) under current consents. The development of a 100,000 cubic metre storage pond would buffer additional water volumes to the treatment plant.
Overburden would be used to fill and rehabilitate the Waipuna pit, the Township pit and a proportion of the Awaroa-4 pit itself, enabling returning the land to conservation pasture, pine forestry and native forest. A remaining area at the northern end would be allowed to fill with water, creating a lake.
Waahi Whaanui said it was fundamentally opposed to coal mining but recognised the importance of the operations to the Region and the nation. Provided appropriate standards were maintained and enforced, some level of compromise could be accepted.
Forest and Bird were concerned about Environment Waikato’s decision not to publicly notify the applications. The organisation considered itself to be an affected party and that the effects of the proposal would be more than minor.
Greenpeace asked Environment Waikato to reconsider the limited notification decision as they considered the effects to be more than minor and adequate consultation was not carried out. Waikato-Tainui’s main concerns were cultural, including potential effects on the river, other environmental aspects and issues of prejudice over their Waikato River claim.
The Committee said that objections made about the limited notification process were outside its scope. The applicant already had consents to use the land for coal mining. Its decision would merely allow, with appropriate controls, or prohibit various ancillary activities necessary.
The Committee said it was impressed with the way the applicant was working with the local community and other stakeholders. Consultation had been appropriate, and the large number of written approvals was testament to their good relationship with neighbouring landowners and residents.
The company would consider extending future consultation to include parties who had expressed an interest in its activities. Its bond would be reviewed every five years, and consent conditions were similar to its existing consents.