Earlier this week, Conservation Minister Nick Smith
released official advice recommending he approve a monorail
through conservation land. He hopes to make a final decision
by Christmas. Queenstown reporter Christina McDonald looks at
why the advice favours the development.
Claims by Government officials the effects of a proposed
monorail linking Lake Wakatipu and Fiordland over conservation
land would be minor, are being questioned by opponents who say
it is not possible, given the ''industrial scale construction''
Conservation Minister Nick Smith released two reports earlier
this week - one from 2011 which said the effects of the
monorail could be managed to the point where they would be
minor, and another from last month, which offered
recommendations as to how the effects could be further
Recommendations in the October 2013 hearing commissioner's
report into the project include tightening conditions
relating to flora and fauna which Riverstone Holdings Ltd
(RHL), as the applicant, accepted; inclusion of swampy
wetland forest, swampy forest, kahikatea trees and podocarps
in a ''significant habitat'' list which RHL accepted;
rehabilitation of spur tracks which RHL accepted; a
requirement for the pre-design to include a survey for the
abundance or presence of bats along the final preferred
route, which was also accepted.
However, the Save Fiordland group's chairman, Bill Jarvie,
yesterday dismissed the findings.
Mr Jarvie said there would be no way a ''major railway
operation'' could have only a minor effect, especially
through established native beech forest home to native
wildlife, and used recreationally. The commissioner's report
explained to Dr Smith that the monorail could be a positive
effect for new users and ''the trade-off between this and the
potential adverse effects on existing users and the
recreational values of the area is the key recreation issue
for you to consider''.
The report summarises the 2011 Department of Conservation
officer's report, also released on Wednesday, to the
decision-maker and noted the 2011 report concluded ''that
subject to concession conditions, the potential effects of
the proposed activities could be reasonably and practicably
avoided, remedied or mitigated to the point where they would
The later report said Riverstone Holdings Ltd has proposed
''a number of revised concessions in response to ...
recommendations'' although it is beyond the report writer's
role ''to seek further technical advice to determine whether
or not these conditions would adequately address the issues
... identified (accepted and allowed) via the public
The monorail proposal was first lodged in August 2006, and
later replaced with another application in 2009. A decision
on this part of a $200 million project named the Fiordland
Link Experience, could be made by Christmas or early next
It has been a contentious proposal. A total of 314
submissions were received during a 55-day submission period -
extended by 15 days because of public demand - and the
overwhelming majority were opposed.
Of the submissions, 27 supported the intention to grant a
concession for the proposal and 287 were against.
Proposed to be about 43km long, the monorail would traverse
29km of conservation land. The remainder would be on private
land, and would require a 6m-wide corridor to be cleared,
together with a construction track, which would then be used
as a mountain bike trail.
Conditions in the 2011 report included an audit of final
on-the-ground design confirming that actual effects would not
be greater than those identified by RHL, relevant plans be
prepared by RHL and approved by the minister before
construction and that ''disturbed areas are promptly and
The hearing commissioner's report has recommended to Dr Smith
which submission topics should be allowed and subsequently
accepted and has generally allowed most of the issues.
Among those Dr Smith is recommended not to accept are
submissions the proposal is contrary to the purpose of the
land as National Park, Conservation Stewardship Area, world
heritage area; and inconsistent with the Mainland Southland
West Otago conservation management strategy and the Fiordland
National Park management plan.
In July, Dr Smith declined a proposal from Milford Dart Ltd
for a tunnel from the Routeburn Rd in Mt Aspiring National
Park to the Hollyford Rd in Fiordland National Park.