Glenorchy residents celebrate light at end of tunnel

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Glenorchy campaigners are overjoyed plans for a bus tunnel in national parks have been rejected.

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith a $180 million Milford Dart Tunnel project was dead in the water.

“It’s tears and champagne here,” Stop The Tunnel campaigner Patricia Ko says.

Ko was with other campaigners in Glenorchy when the announcement was made.

The group battled for two years against the proposal, which aimed to shorten bus journeys from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The proposal involved building an 11.3km private bus tunnel through the mountains from near the beginning of Great Walk the Routeburn Track in Mt Aspiring National Park to Fiordland National Park.

“We are just so relieved. The fantastic thing is [the Minister] declined the proposal on the three things we fought,” Ko says.

“In a way it’s ridiculous because it already came up in the submissions at the time – so why not decline it straight away?

“Then again, we’re really happy the Minister actually has done his job. He looked at the national parks’ management plan and had severe concerns about the rubble.

“So he is protecting New Zealand’s national parks.”

Smith confirmed he declined the tunnel because the environmental impacts were significant and “beyond what is appropriate in two of NZ’s most spectacular national parks and a World Heritage Area”.

“There are three major reasons for declining this tunnel application,” Smith says.

“The first is depositing half a million tonnes of tunnel spoil would permanently damage the natural and landscape values in Hollyford Valley. The second is the impact of the new roads and portals at each end, and particularly the impacts on visitors at the entrance to the Routeburn Track.

“My third concern is that the engineering works and tunnel are inconsistent with the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park Management Plans.”

At the announcement yesterday, Smith revealed Milford Dart Ltd, run by Tom Elworthy, had last week outlined an alternative tunnel.

It’d be two kilometres longer and relocate the eastern portal about three kilometres south-east.

“This is a significantly different proposal on which I’ve not received any technical advice, and of which neither the public nor hearing commissioner has had the opportunity to consider,” Smith says. “I’ve determined that I have insufficient information to make a decision on this alternative.”

Milford Dart Ltd can call for a judicial review of the decision.

But for now, the small group in Glenorchy who generated worldwide attention for their campaign is celebrating a victory for people power.

“Our input has helped,” Ko says, “just to get people involved and spread knowledge about the issue. When we started we had a lot of people from up north saying ‘oh, we need jobs, get the tunnel going’.

“We recently noticed that in the emails, calls and posts we received that people now had knowledge.

“Our community has become much tighter and we’ve developed an amazing relationship with Te Anau and the NZ public is more aware how important national parks are for everyone.

“It’s been an amazing part of it. We’re all standing here with big smiles and glasses of champagne.”