Clarity hard to find in shadows

Foulden Marr, near Middlemarch. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Foulden Marr, near Middlemarch. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
A proposal to mine diatomite at Foulden Hill, near Middlemarch, raises so many questions, writes Michael Stedman. 

The story in the Otago Daily Times (20.4.19) has lifted the lid on a thus far hidden deal between international big business and elected representatives.

Backtracking by local member of government Clare Curran and mayors Dave Cull and Bryan Cadogan is not surprising.

What is surprising is their secret support for a project of this scale.

Clearly they were seduced by a convincing and selective presentation promising enormous benefits to the region.

When an industrial opportunity of this scale is offered by a foreign company to elected representatives, before writing letters of support, basic business practice would expect a reasonable level of due diligence be undertaken.

A few hours searching online may not have provided all the answers, but it would have raised significant questions, questions that should have been answered before letters of support were contemplated.

The Dunedin mayor has spoken of the scientific value, he should have known about the significance of the site, as should the local Member of Parliament.

A similar site in Germany has Unesco world heritage status, which alone, should have been enough to trigger a conversation with the University of Otago.

Why didn't our elected representatives require the company to engage with the communities?

They will claim commercial sensitivity, this is code for we want to keep it secret and avoid annoying questions from the great unwashed, the unwashed they represent and who pay their salaries.

And what of the environmental impact?

From publicly available information, the mine will operate 24/7 at full production, extracting up to 500,000 tonnes a year, with purpose-built truck-trailer movements units, according to Plaman, every 6.6 minutes between the mine, Milton and return using State Highway 87.

The impact on the roads will be significant and what of the communities that may be impacted? I'm not sure Outram will hang a welcome sign out for 37-tonne trucks loads passing through every 6.6 minutes.

And who will pay for the inevitable damage to the road system?

The drying process in Milton has three energy options for the proposed millions of tonnes, coal, diesel or natural gas. Add to that the carbon footprint of the trucks and this proposed industry is a very serious polluter.

Given the serious wind-borne mining dust health risks to the local community, in the briefing provided to elected members, what risks and mitigation from mining the dust were presented by Plaman?

We do know that a hundred jobs will be created, we know this because our elected representatives told us and they know that because Plaman told them!

A couple of closing observations, there is no such thing as Black Pearl; it's a marketing slogan.

A small amount of research debunks the stock food claim, which of course raises the question of the link between palm oil and fertiliser.

So many questions, questions that should have asked and answered before any letters of support were written.

We were promised transparency and openness from government, what we have is secrecy, closed doors and a world of political shadows; problem is, we don't know what happens in the shadows

 - Michael Stedman is a former managing director of Natural History New Zealand.


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