Impasse over council move to buy historic Foulden Maar

Foulden Marr, near Middlemarch. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Foulden Marr, near Middlemarch. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
A difference of opinion about whether future mining could be a realistic proposition at Foulden Maar may be a significant sticking point delaying acquisition of the inland Otago fossil site.

The Dunedin City Council announced in November 2019 it wanted to buy the site near Middlemarch to protect the scientifically important maar, but it has since been unable to strike an agreement with the receiver of a mining business about the site’s value.

Save Foulden Maar secretary Shane Loader believed the dispute could be principally about the perceived value of mining permits.

A liquidators’ report for Plaman Resources in June 2019 listed the value of 42ha of Middlemarch land at just under $632,000.

Exploration and mining permits were said to be worth more than $4.9million.

Mr Loader said the council could rightfully argue the permits held little more than theoretical value, but he expected the mining firm’s receiver, Calibre Partners, held a different view.

Plaman has a permit to mine the land for black diatomaceous earth, which was to be sold as a supplement in animal feed.

Both the council and the receiver have been tight-lipped about land-acquisition negotiations and the nature of the hold-up.

The council initiated moves to acquire both the land and permits at the end of October 2019, saying it was prepared to use the Public Works Act to force a sale.

The council remained in discussions with the receiver regarding the valuation for Foulden Maar, a council spokesman said.

Other than confirming it had received a valuation, the council provided no further information, nor clarification about the state of negotiations.

The maar has been described as a scientific treasure trove.

The historic volcanic crater has preserved leaves, flowers and pollen in fossil form, as well as fish, spiders, flies, ants and beetles.

Researchers and miners previously worked alongside each other at the site, but the arrangement did not continue after Plaman went into receivership.

University of Otago paleontologist Daphne Lee said researchers had last been allowed to conduct study work on Foulden Maar about two years ago.

Receiver Neale Jackson had no comment about the land negotiations but said Calibre Partners’ policy was to control access to the property when it was not in a position to properly oversee access.

"The usual exceptions to that policy are where access is required for compliance reasons, maintenance or similar."

The restriction at Foulden Maar was not specific to scientists, he said.


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