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Foulden Maar may be turned into a public reserve, or returned to private ownership as a farm, but only after its protection is ensured, the Dunedin City Council says.
The council announced on Monday it had issued notices under the Public Works Act as part of a push to purchase the land near Middlemarch from liquidators for Plaman Resources Ltd.
That was the first step down a path which could end in a compulsory purchase by the council, which wanted to stop any mining of the site to protect its world-recognised fossil and climate change record.
Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said the Public Works Act allowed for the forcible acquisition of land to create a public reserve, and that could yet be the ultimate outcome over the next year.
However, the council was "a long way from that" for now, as talks with the various parties involved were just beginning.
"There's other options we need to explore ... the aim for the council is to protect the maar, but where we end up in terms of what's the best option - we're a wee way off that yet.
"That work is starting now."
Dr Bidrose could not say whether Plaman or the liquidator were willing sellers, or whether other parties were chasing the property, but Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said those sort of questions would be answered in time.
"That's what we're going to find out. We've got a year to decide whether or not we want to pursue a compulsory acquisition, but the ideal outcome would be a negotiated sale of the land."
Mr Hawkins said the council has to demonstrate at least three months of good-faith negotiation, before being able to seek a forced acquisition if a sale agreement could not be reached.
Those negotiations would be handled by council staff.
The community had made it "quite clear" they wanted Foulden Maar protected and preserved, and that had "broad political support", he said.
If the land was purchased by the council, a covenant could be added to protect it, he said.
After that, the conversation would turn to what to do with the site, he said.
"There's no reason why, were it appropriately protected, with access to research maintained, that it couldn't go back to being used for rural purposes, or it could be retained in public ownership and managed by council or a joint venture or a community trust or whatever.
"We haven't considered it. It could be a geopark, it could be a scientific reserve, it could be farmland. The outcome we're after is the preservation and protection of the fossil record.
"What the surrounding use of that is ... would be the next stage of that conversation."
Mr Hawkins did not want to speculate on the likely sum required to secure the site, but funding for any acquisition could come from a variety of sources.
That could include the community - given 10,000 people signed the petition to protect the area - but also central government sources, he said.
"This is significant to our community but also nationally and internationally significant. I don't see why those wouldn't be options that we considered."