Residents Say They Feel Intimidated By Environment Court Proceedings

Posted by Gold FM on 30/04/2012

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The MEP or Martha Exploration Project has been worrying some Waihi residents so much that they were prepared to try to challenge Newmont Waihi Gold's proposal to vary the conditions of their license to mine the open pit mine. Many of them have now withdrawn from the process within the last day or so because they say they have found the whole process intimidating and stressful.

We spoke to some of the residents who have been involved and asked if they'd like to be interviewed on air about the issues as they see them. None of them were prepared to make public comments with their names attached and it was apparent that these people were very stressed about what is happening. We were told they have "faced overwhelming difficulties, feel totally disadvantaged and are suffering terrific stress". One gentleman we spoke to said "there was far more opposition about things than comes to the forefront'. He said when it came to the Environment Court mediation process "there were 16 objectors prepared to stand up on one side with no legal representation, and on the other there was a vast bank of knowledge with lawyers, representatives and council representatives". He said "it's definitely not a fair playing field, there are real problems, sad stories and even though I'm not anti mining, I've seen first hand some of the people who find it very difficult to live with the ongoing proposals to expand mining operations in Waihi, and feel very sympathetic to those people. We felt very intimidated, it's a huge stress and I have a 9 inch thick file from meetings that I've attended. We're just ordinary lay people trying to understand it all". "I've not been able to sleep for worrying about all of this".

"The way the mining company has changed plans leaving people confused about whether the mine is staying or leaving is a real concern. Many people have made decisions to buy properties or start businesses in the area because they thought the mine would close," he said.

Dust, noise, vibration, house prices and the lack of royalties paid by Newmont to extract gold from Martha are bones of contention. "There are people living in houses that are rented from the mine who have had things change, and they're not allowed to openly voice their concern, as they have been restricted from speaking up through their rental agreements. Some people are clearly suffering from ill health and need to sell their homes urgently, but can not sell".

He also said it was very important for Waihi residents to realise that the Property and Community Investment Policy document that Newmont had put out was simply a report that they had written. "It is definitely not a legal, binding document, and can be changed by Newmont if they see fit, so people need to understand that they are not necessarily protected by it".

A woman we talked to said almost the same thing. She felt bamboozled by the process and incredibly frustrated with the lack of support from local councillors. "We're now being threatened with court costs and the reality is we don't have the expertise or the money to stand up to all of the suits".

Because the mining license was done before the Resource Management Act and the decision has already been made to approve Newmont's application to further 'explore' Martha by tunnelling underneath the mine they are dealing with different rules and legislation and a number of authorities.

The people who spoke to us said the majority have now withdrawn from the Environment Court proceedings, citing threats to seek legal costs from them if the court does not rule in their favour as the reason.

The decision to vary the license for the Martha mine was made by the Hauraki District Council, the Waikato Regional Council and the Minister of Energy and Resources.

Read the decision here.