OIO studies new submissions

The fate of a would-be Middlemarch diatomite mine near Dunedin remains firmly in the hands of the Overseas Investment Office, which has received 25 new submissions on the plans of Australian company Plaman Resources.

The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) noted yesterday in an update that when it approved the 42ha mine purchase in 2014 ''at that time the OIO was not aware of fossils on the land''.

Plaman, which at present owns the 42ha non-producing mine on Moonlight Rd, applied in February last year to buy the adjacent Foulden Hill farm and its 432ha, also rich in the diatomite.

However, the ancient Foulden Maar volcanic crater is rich in fossils and the scientific community, environmentalists and many in the small township are clamouring for more information and transparency on the fossils, mine plans and its operational effects.

Last Saturday, in one of the largest turnouts seen in the district, it was almost standing room only for more than 150 people, from around the South Island, who were updated by University of Otago geologist Prof Daphne Lee, on the importance of the heavily fossilised site.

While the Overseas Investment Office considers the new submissions, any decision to allow the purchase to go ahead ultimately comes down to approval from Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage and Associate Finance Minister David Clark.

Controversially for the mining sector, Ms Sage recently knocked back an application by Oceana Gold to build a new tailings dam at its North Island gold mine at Waihi, which threatens to shorten its lifespan by several years.

One point was clarified by the OIO, in that the 432ha Foulden Hill farm was publicly advertised for sale in February 2017, which had been disputed by some in the community.

The OIO said yesterday it was ''reviewing'' the 25 new submissions, without outlining an updated decision-making timeline, on whether the submissions were relevant under the Overseas Investment Act.

It is known one submission was from Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, on behalf of the Dunedin City Council, revoking an earlier letter of support and instead formally recognising Foulden Maar's significance and calling for its preservation.

Last week, he said losing access to such a nationally and internationally scientific site would be a huge loss.

simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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