Planners say gold-mine consent should be declined

Hawkeswood Mining Ltd is seeking resource consent to mine for gold on the edge of the Clutha...
Hawkeswood Mining Ltd is seeking resource consent to mine for gold on the edge of the Clutha River to the northwest of Millers Flat. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A gold-mining operation planned for the edge of the Clutha could cause "irreversible damage" to sacred Kāi Tahu sites and should be declined, planners say.

Planners for both the Otago Regional and Central Otago District councils have recommended commissioners decline resource consent for a proposed alluvial gold-mining operation in Millers Flat.

The recommendations are a blow for Hawkeswood Mining Ltd ahead of a hearing next month.

The planners’ report also revealed the company has been in trouble for carrying out unconsented work at the site, with an abatement notice issued for mining activities in May last year and another issued in February this year over the building of a green waste recycling facility.

The planners said the company’s application did not properly address the cultural significance of the site and wider area to Ngāi Tahu, which is referred to as Kāi Tahu in southern parts of the South Island.

The planners largely backed a submission from Kāi Tahu which stressed the iwi’s cultural, spiritual and traditional relationship with the Clutha River.

Kāi Tahu submitted it was concerned about the environmental impact of the proposal and said Hawkeswood had not taken into account the iwi’s relationship with what was a significant cultural landscape.

The iwi said the river, also known as Mata-au, had a long history as a place where local iwi collected food, which supported both temporary and permanent settlements.

This meant there were numerous burial sites and other tapu (sacred) locations, including battle sites, along the course of the river.

Central Otago District Council contract planner Olivia Stirling said Hawkeswood’s application was lacking when it came to the potential cultural impact of the operation.

"I consider that without sufficient evidence to the contrary that the application may lead to irreversible damage to the wāhi tapu [places sacred to iwi] linked with the site."

She was also concerned about the company’s ability to identify and protect potential unidentified Māori archaeological sites.

ORC senior consents planner Danielle Ter Huurne shared these concerns in her separate report.

While the adverse effects on the physical environment could be appropriately managed, there was insufficient information in the report to assess the potential effects on the "metaphysical" importance of the river to iwi.

Ms Ter Huurne also said the application stated the mining operations would promote the social and economic wellbeing of the community, but it did not show how this would be achieved.

"The application does not currently demonstrate that the positive effects of the proposal will outweigh the adverse effects."

Ms Stirling said while Hawkeswood Mining could avoid or mitigate some of the adverse effects, there was uncertainty about others, such as landscape, biodiversity and natural hazards.

She said the rural landscape values experienced by users of the Clutha Gold trail and neighbours of the mining site would be compromised throughout the 10-year operation of the mine.

"Ultimately, I cannot conclude that the adverse landscape and visual effects will be acceptable on both owners and occupiers of neighbouring properties," she said.

The reports were recommendations of the consent planners and not a final decision on the application.

They will be considered along with any other evidence, by commissioners at a hearing in Millers Flat.