Mining threatens Cobb Valley

13 Nov 2012

Forest & Bird’s Golden Bay branch and many locals in Nelson and Golden Bay are working hard to stop a proposed mine that threatens a unique ecosystem surrounded by Kahurangi National Park in the Cobb Valley, south of Täkaka.

Motueka-based Steatite Ltd wants to mine soapstone, or steatite, from three outcrops in the Cobb Valley. The company plans to remove up to 1660 nine-tonne slabs of soapstone a year from three rocky outcrops using benched open-cast mining.

Golden Bay Forest & Bird Branch Secretary Jo-Anne Vaughan says if mining goes ahead, distinctive plant life adapted to the unusual geology will be destroyed. The Cobb Valley soapstone outcrops are unique in New Zealand.

Noise from the mining operations will destroy the peace of the popular hiking and camping area, the landscape will be scarred and trucks travelling the narrow, winding road to the Cobb Valley 64 times a week will be dangerous to visitors.

“It’s just extreme; the magnitude of it is mind-blowing,” Jo-Anne says. “They could never replace it or mitigate the damage they will do. We reckon it will be impossible to get it back again.”

Top of the South Island Field Officer Debs Martin says some of the issues raised by the Cobb Valley proposal are similar to those around Bathurst Resources’ proposal to open-cast mine the Denniston Plateau. The unique geology of both areas has created plant and animal communities found nowhere else.

In both cases too, the mine proponents are seeking access agreements from the Department of Conservation on high-value, publicly owned conservation land to carry out their mining, but there is no provision for public input to the decision-making. Steatite Ltd is currently seekingaccess rights before going ahead with resource consent applications for the open-cast mine.

Kahurangi National Park and surrounding areas are one of the oldest parts of New Zealand in geological terms, Debs says. “There are important fossils in the rock structure, including moa and South Island käkäpö bones in karst caves and the mummified remains of the extinct owlet-nightjar, which holds perhaps the only DNA record of that species.

On the rock outcrops, you strike a very unusual combination of plants with a very high degree of local endemism that are confined to that area. One of the plants – the small herb magnesite cress – is found nowhere else.

“It is up there probably as one of our most important sites in the country and it should be added to Kahurangi National Park to ensure its protection.”