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An overwhelming sense of disbelief has been voiced this week during Queenstown hearings on the controversial Milford Dart Ltd proposal to construct a $150 million, 11.3km tunnel through two national parks.
Hearings chairman Paul Green and assistant Chris Visser have been tasked with compiling submissions to pass on to the Department of Conservation (Doc) decision-maker - likely to be Doc deputy director Sue Tucker - after the department agreed in principle to grant the concession.
In January, the Glenorchy community held a public meeting, attended by about 100 people. They voted unanimously to oppose the proposal.
While many of the 46 submitters, primarily from Glenorchy, scheduled to address the panel over the past two days did not attend to speak to their submissions, those who did made emotional pleas to Doc to decline the application.
Doc's ultimate decision could be subject to a judicial review, but only on points of law; for example, if Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson failed to take into account relevant matters, or took into account matters that were not relevant.
However, the application would require resource consents from both the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Southland District Council, and any decision of either council could be appealed to the Environment Court.
Among those speaking to their submissions was Glenorchy resident Corrine Davis, who told Mr Green and Ms Visser yesterday Doc's decision to agree in principle to grant the concession "flies in the face of our democratic process".
Mrs Davis and her husband, Thor, have lived in Glenorchy for more than 20 years, and own and operate the Mt Earnslaw Motel and Glenorchy Fur Products.
She told the panel she attended public meetings when the Mt Aspiring National Park management plan was being discussed, where "no new roads" was one point given "much consideration".
"I simply cannot believe that this process was all for nothing and is now being overridden in favour of a private company who wants only to make money for themselves.
"The intention to grant this concession has also overturned the decisions of two conservation boards, who are the voice of the people.
"Why do you have conservation boards if you don't listen to them?" Mrs Davis said the tunnel was proposed for construction through a known seismic area and questioned if the country could "afford a disaster the likes of Pike River and Christchurch combined".
"Even a relatively minor accident has the potential to become major ... given the remote location, getting aid to the site quickly is unlikely, especially considering that any aid must come from Queenstown on the Routeburn side, as Glenorchy is too small to have much in the way of an emergency response unit."
Mr Davis said the road at the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn Track would need to be widened by about 3m, which would see a significant number of mature trees - home to endangered bats and birds - removed.
"To have it happen in a national park is [unbelievable].
"I don't think you should be able to do it and I wouldn't have thought you could be able to do it in a national park.
"It stuns me.
"It is impossible to mitigate.
"Once you take it, it's gone.
"You can't mitigate against it and if you have made a mistake, this is a mistake for all time.
"You can't repair it.
"That's the thing that scares me - once you go past a point, it's done." Alison Broad, of Invercargill, said in her submission the tunnel was the "answer to the wrong question".
"The problem is not that the Queenstown to Milford day trip is too long. The problem is that this day trip has been touted as the 'norm' for visits to Milford. If the starting point was Te Anau, the day trip is a good length and appropriate to the stunning landscape through which one travels."
Ms Broad said tourism would benefit from longer, not shorter, stays and with much of the country's tourism appeal based on a "clean green image", the proposal would "weaken the golden goose".
"To sacrifice treasured parts of our national parks to abbreviate the tourist experience is a double nonsense.
"I consider it to be bizarre to contradict the purpose of our national parks, to jeopardise World Heritage status, and to sacrifice the wider public enjoyment and benefit of much-loved national park areas, merely for the prospect of private profit for a few."
Ruth-Ann Anderson, of Glenorchy, said she found it "bizarre and disturbing" she was before the panel "almost pleading [with Doc] for the protection of mohua and bats".
The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Friday.