Bathurst project delayed

Environmental Court challenges have postponed upgrade plans for Westport's port, and the potential employment of hundreds of staff, until mediation or a court decision, allows coal miner Bathurst Resources to begin West Coast production.

Two of the challenges revolve around environmental and conserving flora and fauna issues.

Bathurst chief executive Hamish Bohannan has given an undertaking that millions of dollars will be spent during the mine's 35-year life in predator eradication and land rehabilitation.

"Yes. We'll be offering well above and beyond the minimum [financial] requirements.

"It's not mining that kills snails and kiwi, but introduced predators," he said when contacted yesterday.

Bathurst has recently received consents from two West Coast councils to begin operations, but the West Coast Environmental Network Inc, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and the Fairdown-Whareatea Residents' Association have in the past week all lodged separate challenges.

In coming weeks, he would address "misinformation" he said was being circulated about mining the Denniston plateau near Westport, in that the footprint of the open-cast operation was not the entire plateau and the 200ha southern escarpment area was already subjected to widespread leftovers of mining industrialisation from the 1960s and 1970s.

"It is in everyone's interest that the environment is protected. It [annual funding] has got to be over a sustained period to offer real protection," he said regarding sponsoring predator control, as far as the Heaphy River, above Westport, and rehabilitation of tailings.

The court challenges appear to be Australian-based dual-listed Bathurst's largest hurdle to date.

The company smoothly entered New Zealand, listed here last year, raised more than $242 million for the project and acquired a suite of adjoining coal assets and working mines, although the working mines are relatively small operations.

Despite last week's plunging financial markets, Mr Bohannan said, Bathurst remained in a "strong financial position" following its successful capital raising, $A72 million cash-in-hand and a $A90 million bank draw-down facility.

As predicted, the court challenges have the potential to delay Bathurst by three months from its schedule of beginning mining by the end of the year.

Mr Bohannan remains hopeful talks within mediation with the residents association could "find an answer" which suits everyone "within a few weeks".

Similarly, he hopes regulatory mediation with Forest and Bird and the Environmental Network would allow "common ground" to be found and address their respective concerns.

Until a decision is reached, all work is "'now on hold" to redevelop Westport's wharves as a staging point for shipments to the port of Taranaki for export, he said. Bathurst has about 40 employees and needs a total of 255 for the operation, Mr Bohannan said.

"Until we know the outcome of the [Environment] court challenges, everything has to be on hold," he said.

He acknowledged the potential for a delay to work beginning on the Denniston plateau, but highlighted that production would continue from the Cascade and Stockdale mines. The underground Brookdale mine, which was consented when purchased for $US12 million and scrip by Bathurst, was in the final tender stages for coal extraction and otherwise on target to begin production next year.

Bathurst is negotiating with the Department of Conservation over lodging a bond and gaining access concessions for some operations. Negotiations had been delayed and he had no expectation of when a decision might be released by Doc, which is in the throes of restructuring.



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