Mine traffic concern with new bridge

Community concern is growing in Middlemarch over fears a new bridge will become a highway for mining trucks.

Three options for the new bridge across the Taieri River at Sutton were presented to the public at a Dunedin City Council drop-in session in Middlemarch last night.

However, two residents - both recent arrivals to the area - have also contacted the Otago Daily Times in recent days to voice concerns about the number of trucks likely to be using the new bridge.

The trucks would come from the nearby diatomite mine site at the Foulden Hills, near Middlemarch, which Australian company Plaman Global wants to restart and grow from a 42ha site to more than 400ha over four years.

A Powerpoint presentation from the company showed it anticipated a fleet of 50 purpose-built bulk truck and trailer units servicing the mining operation, once it hit full capacity in 2025.

That would see truck movements ramping up from 1.1 trucks leaving the site each hour in the first year of the operation, to 4.5 trucks an hour in year four.

The vehicles would make the 264km trip south to a diatomite processing plant at Awarua, between Invercargill and Bluff, before returning.

Craig Pilcher, the general manager of Plaman in New Zealand, acknowledged the community concern when contacted, but said the peak in vehicle movements would not be until 2025.

The company first needed additional consents to cover the entire footprint of the site, which it expected to apply for in April next year, triggering a public hearing, he said.

In the meantime, plans for a public meeting to discuss the mine next month were being drawn up, he said.

The Strath Taieri Community Board had also voiced concerns about the number of trucks which could pass through the centre of Middlemarch, he said.

That could be avoided if the new bridge was used instead, Mr Pilcher said.

Last night's bridge drop-in session came two months after Dunedin city councillors voted for a modern bridge to replace the former 19th-century suspension bridge, which collapsed during floods last July.

Strath Taieri board chairman Barry Williams, contacted yesterday, said he was ``a little bit disappointed'' people were conflating debate over the bridge options with the merits of the diatomite mine.

``Let's get the bridge finished first, then worry about the [diatomite mine] when and if it happens.''

Speaking after the drop-in session last night, Dunedin City Council transport group manager Richard Saunders said concerns were raised by ``a couple of people'' about the number of trucks likely to be using the bridge.

The ``really positive'' meeting was attended by about 50 people, but no clear preference emerged from the group for any of the three bridge designs mooted, Mr Saunders said.


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