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The Department of Conservation will receive $100,000 from gold-miner Oceana Gold in return for taking a neutral stance on an application to expand the East Otago gold mine.
The director-general of conservation, concerned about the loss of habitat for the Taieri flathead galaxiids, longfin eel and the indigenous flora, had asked for the resource consents for the mine expansion to be declined. However, yesterday he told the hearing panel through counsel Pene Williams that the payment and a trout barrier would sufficiently deal with adverse effects of the project.
"For these reasons the director-general now neither supports nor opposes the resource consent applications," she told the fourth day of the hearing in Dunedin.
The payment would fund maintenance and protection work for roundhead galaxiids in the Kyeburn catchment, she said.
Department of Conservation Resource Management Act planner Bruce Hill said Doc might be seen to have sacrificed the resident population of galaxiids, "which it had", due to the understanding of the inherent inflexibility of the mining operation and its importance to the region.
"We could not devise a means by which the adverse effects of the MPIII project on those resident galaxiids could be avoided without seeking a decline of the project or either feasibly remedying or mitigating the adverse effects."
The fund would allow for "biodiversity offset" which would provide for a net benefit to Otago's non-migratory galaxias flock, he said.
Doc freshwater ranger Pete Ravenscroft said the fund would give Doc "better bang for its buck" by protecting galaxiids in the Kyeburn rather than the mine-affected Deepdell Creek.
The Central Otago galaxiid was threatened and it was "losing population at an alarming rate".
"It will go a long way towards [stopping the population loss]."
Aquatic ecology specialist Greg Ryder, on behalf of Oceana Gold, said the project's effect on the galaxiid population would be mitigated by flows being released from the proposed Camp Creek reservoir into Deepdell Creek when flows were low.
He did not agree with concern from an Otago Regional Council science unit that the deeper flows would provide habitat for trout that predate on galaxiid.
The proposed mine extension would flood gullies and remove several threatened plant species.
Mr Ryder recommended mitigation including restoration of tussock grassland, native bush, indigenous scrub and wetlands, weed control, fencing off populations of threatened species and artificial enhancement of threatened species.
Very few sites with significant aquatic ecology were likely to be affected by the mine, However, silt ponds and other sediment control measures should prevent contaminants reaching the lower catchments, he said.
Oceana Gold had proposed developing an ecological management plan for birds, lizards, vegetation and aquatic biota which would provide the details on how mitigation measures would be implemented, he said.
He presented consent conditions providing for about 45ha of indigenous vegetation in the Cranky Jims Creek catchment, about 10ha of scrubland in the Highlay Creek catchments and about 100ha of tussock grassland outside the mining area to be protected by covenant.