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Owner Sir John Davies attended the local Department of Conservation office for a Doc hearing of submissions on NZSki’s summer plans for a six-seater replacement chairlift in Sugar Basin, revised ski trails and snow-making equipment.
The skifield is on Rastus Burn Recreation Reserve, land leased from Doc.
Some 104,000sqm of land will be disturbed, and native species of flora will be transferred and replanted elsewhere.
Yesterday, Sir John was backed by fellow rich lister and philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar and former Cabinet minister Warren Cooper, who, like Sir John, is a former Queenstown mayor.
In the green corner, via Skype, were Dunedin knight, botanist and University of Otago emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark, along with Forest & Bird Otago and Southland central regional manager Sue Maturin.
Sir Alan said he accepted the need to replace the outdated chairlift but not the need for the new trails.
He believed the proposal to transplant certain threatened alpine species, speargrasses with tap roots, would be "fraught with difficulty and unsuccessful’’.
He also highlighted the disturbance to the basin in general, particularly over snow tussock, along with erosion problems.
"I would assess the overall impact as significant; certainly more than minor.’’
Ski area manager Ross Lawrence told the hearing the application had been revised to reduce the area modified by 33,000sqm. One proposed trail was reduced by 320m so no wetland would be disturbed.
He said the 30m-50m wide trails would help skiers with less ability, thereby alleviating congestion on trails elsewhere on the mountain and improving safety.
"We’re always looking to see how we can improve the opportunities of long tap [root] species to survive."
Mr Lawrence said NZSki wanted to work collaboratively and stressed that staff cared about the Rastus Burn environment as much, if not more, than "anyone else in New Zealand’’.
Sir Eion and Mr Cooper stressed NZSki’s track record and made the economic case.
Chairman of the Winter Games NZ, Sir Eion described NZSki as a party of substance that fulfills its obligation and backed the expansion giving the Games another option for facilities.
Doc came under fire in June for its handling of an NZSki application to extend a learners’ slope in the Shadow Basin area of the skifield, destroying about 100sqm of regionally significant wetland.
It gave non-notified written consent, despite an internal report by ecological technical adviser Brian Rance raising concerns about the cumulative effects on the area’s ecological values.
Otago Regional Council gave the ultimate land use consent for the project and Forest & Bird has filed a judicial review against its decision. Mr Rance was one of a panel of three hearing submissions yesterday.
This time, the application was publicly notified for 20 days, under a new process. Doc’s own assessment runs as a separate parallel process.
The submissions, notes from yesterday’s hearing, and Doc’s assessment will be presented to Doc southern South Island operations director Aaron Fleming, who will make the decision using delegated powers.