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National

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DOC backs Fiordland monorail plan

Last updated 05:00 31/10/2013

JOHN EDENS

FAST TRACK: Artist’s impression of the monorail.

The Department of Conservation has recommended the developers of the proposed $200 million Fiordland monorail be given provisional permission to clear a 29.5-kilometre-long, 6-metre-wide corridor through conservation land.

However, Conservation Minister Nick Smith has the final say on whether the monorail should proceed, and he has yet to decide.

He inspected the proposed route yesterday and issued official reports from the Department of Conservation and the hearing commissioner that recommend approval for public scrutiny.

Both reports have recommended the developers, Riverstone Holdings, be given provisional permission to construct two terminals and the 29.5km-long, 6m-wide corridor that would be cleared to make way for the monorail through public conservation land.

However, the project would still be subject to extensive conditions.

Mr Smith, who axed a separate bid to drill a bus tunnel between the Routeburn Rd and Hollyford Rd by Milford Dart earlier this year, has the final say.

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He said a decision was possible by the end of the year but the final call was no easier than the decision on the Milford tunnel.

Speaking in Queenstown, Mr Smith said he asked some tough questions of the applicant.

"There's no question the Snowdon forest is spectacular. That cuts both ways, it's also a wonderful place for visitors to experience the very best of what the Fiordland area has to offer."

While the tunnel project caused him "great unease", it was significant that the monorail proposal was outside the national park except a small area at Te Anau Downs. The route does not run through Fiordland National Park but is partly included within the Unesco Te Wahipounamu world heritage area and the Snowdon forest.

"I do take the view that general stewardship does not have the same tough, very protective covenants that a national park has but I have to weigh that up because this monorail has a high level of impact. This is an area of 22 hectares."

Speaking to The Southland Times, he said the primary consideration was conservation while the secondary consideration was economic viability. He said he needed to be clear that if the project failed then taxpayers were not left with a clean-up bill.

"I do not want the Government being left with a white elephant. However, it's possible to manage that risk through the imposition of bonds and other financial tools."

The minister plans to discuss the proposal with the New Zealand Conservation Authority and consider more advice from the department on world heritage status.

Riverstone Holdings run by Bob Robertson, of Wanaka, proposes a tourist trip using a catamaran from Queenstown to Mt Nicholas Station, an all-terrain vehicle drive to Kiwi Burn, near the Mavora Lakes, and then a 41-kilometre monorail ride to Te Anau Downs.

Dr Smith made the official reports available yesterday because of the level of public interest in the proposal and said he wanted to be open about advice.

Of 315 submissions to the hearing commissioners, 288 opposed the proposed concession.

Opponents of the monorail development said they were disappointed with the recommendations passed on to the minister.

Save Fiordland chairman Bill Jarvie said he did not believe the hearing commissioner placed enough weight on the concerns raised in the submissions.

"I expect the minister will take a very close look at the shortcomings of the proposal," he said.

Mr Robertson, who was not commenting to media yesterday, has previously said he is confident he can raise the capital to fund the project which would have a minimal impact on the environment.

- The Southland Times

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