Variation to mining consent approved

A variation to the consent for a diatomite mining operation near Middlemarch means the company will not have to plant trees screening the mine from Moonlight Rd.

In March, a hearing committee heard the application of Featherston Resources Ltd (FRL) to vary the consent.

The variation was opposed by a neighbouring landowner, who claimed that in its various activities to date, the company had changed the project so much it should not be allowed to continue any work without a new consent.

The mine was approved in 2000, with a non-notified Dunedin City Council consent.

Diatomite is the fossilised remains of up to 100,000 varieties of microscopic water-borne algae called diatoms, impregnated with silica.

When mined, diatomite resembles hard fertiliser such as limestone or phosphate. It is used in fertiliser, insect repellent, whitewash, oil contamination clean-up, toxic waste thickening, soil remediation and waste water treatment.

The Middlemarch quarry contains an estimated 20 million tonnes of diatomite, and the company has a 20-year mining permit from 1993. The company has leased a 40ha area from Holcim New Zealand, and plans to mine about 16ha.

The hearing committee of Crs Colin Weatherall, Andrew Noone and Teresa Stevenson and Strath Taieri community board chairman Barry Williams heard there had been a dispute with neighbours Anton and Elizabeth Gibson over whether the company should buy the land where the trees were to be planted.

Because of that, the resource consent condition requiring screening trees be planted could not be completed, and a variation to the consent was needed. The company sought to mitigate the visual effects of the mine from within the operation area instead.

The project's landscape architect told the committee the mitigation from the stand of trees would be limited.

The committee also considered the design and features of a lake to be created post-mining; other landscape mitigation features; whether the consent still pertained or had lapsed; whether a new consent was required or a variation; the scope of the conditions and the effects of the mining on the adjoining landowner.

In a letter to FRL chief executive Emma Weston last month, committee chairman Cr Weatherall said the committee accepted it could only vary the consent on landscape matters.

It granted the variation and decided the existing consent had been exercised and the proposed variation had negligible environmental effects on submitters beyond what was already authorised.

Mining activity would be carried out in a manner more sympathetic to the landscape as a result of the amendments, the letter said.


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