A request for new information, from a company wanting to dredge the seabed off the Taranaki coast, should have been made earlier and not during the final hearings stage, groups opposing the mining proposal say.
The Environmental Protection Authority decision making committee has asked Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to provide more information to its seabed mining application two months into the hearing process.
The authority committee had asked for further information about levels of noise output, and the size of the sediment cloud, which occurred during dredging.
It defended its request by saying it was obligated under law to seek the information throughout the process and had wide powers to do so.
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However anti-mining group Kiwi’s Against Seabed Mining (KASM) spokesman Phil McCabe said the late call for more documentation showed the consultation and application process was flawed and not as robust as it should be.
“The information should have been supplied from the beginning,” he said.
“Bringing it in now at this late stage means the process isn’t robust.”
McCabe said the additional information would be useful but it should have been introduced earlier in the process.
The organisation was run by volunteers and paid for experts to investigate issues out of donations.
The under-resourced group did not have an open cheque book, or unlimited time, and was fighting a well funded company, he said.
“We knew from the beginning of the process there were key bits missing from TTR’s application.
“We told the EPA that it was incomplete and they didn’t send it back to TTR.
“Now the EPA is looking for more information to consider during the hearings because the application from TTR is insufficient.”
Forest and Bird, and South Taranaki iwi, Ngati Ruanui, both supported KASM’s stance.
In a joint statement with Greenpeace, KASM called the request “contrary to natural justice and the Exclusive Economic Zone Act”, and accused the EPA of “going off the rails” to ask for more evidence at a late stage.
Trans Tasman Resources have applied to dredge up to 50 million tonnes, over 65 square kilometres, of seabed a year off the South Taranaki Bight to retrieve and export 5 million tonnes iron ore annually for up to 35 years.
It is the second application the 45 per cent owned foreign company had made to dredge the iron sands in three years.
Hearings to consider the application began in Wellington in mid-February, and New Plymouth in March, and were set to end on March 20.
The latest request for more information will set the end of the hearings back to late May.
A decision by the EPA on whether the application is successful may not be known until late June.
McCabe said the group would consider applying for a judicial review of the hearings process because it was flawed and prejudiced submitters opposing the application.
“It’s an option for us but it is not a small process to trigger a review and it can be lengthy,” he said.
“If the information was available from the beginning, there could have been more submissions made in opposing it.”
The EPA had originally accepted the application as complete but had now “turned around” and asked for new information.
McCabe said the authority should have asked for more information seven month ago.
“This new information may make the application look very different than it did at the beginning of the process,” he said.
‘To have a considerable amount of information put on the table at the end of the process means that opportunities for proper public engagement in the process have now been lost.”