Members of the Glenorchy Stop the Tunnel group are gearing up for all-out war.
Protesters fighting plans to build a tunnel through national parks say they will take their case to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and consider a judicial review.
They have already written to UNESCO about the Milford Dart Tunnel, which would be cut through mountains. It’ll go through an area protected as part of UNESCO World Heritage Area of Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand.
The opponents believe the development will threaten the area’s status and should the Department of Conservation grant permission, it’ll break DoC’s covenant with UNESCO.
A 150-strong audience at Queenstown’s Memorial Hall on Sunday also heard independent Anderson Lloyd solicitor Annabelle Ritchie lay out the necessary steps for a judicial review should DoC grant permission. It would likely cost in excess of $120,000.
Glenorchy resident Dr Leslie van Gelder says: “We’ve written to UNESCO and they’re aware of the situation. They have no grounds until a decision is made. If the decision is made to build a tunnel that decision will be a violation, we think, of the covenant.
“If we get to the judicial review stage, we hope we’ll see some support come to us on a national level, because it’s a national and international issue.”
Te Anau’s Save Fiordland group also spoke at the meeting. Both groups oppose the tunnel – which would see tourists bypass Te Anau – and also a proposed Fiordland Link Experience monorail through DoC-managed Snowdon Forest, also in the UNESCO World Heritage area.
Stop the Tunnel also claims the tunnel proposal contravenes the Conservation Act, the National Parks Act, Guidelines for the National Parks and the Mount Aspiring National Park Management Plan.
In November, 2011, DoC published a report indicating its intention to grant the tunnel backers a concession to build the tunnel.
A final decision is likely to be made by Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson.
A DoC spokesman says: “The World Heritage status of the region was taken into consideration in reaching the preliminary decision.
“DoC is not in a position to comment further while the process for reaching a final decision is still underway.”
A UNESCO spokesman says: “If the issue is indeed found to be potentially damaging to the preservation of those attributes for which the site has been inscribed on the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee will discuss the issue at its annual session.”
That is not until June-July, 2013, in Cambodia.
The Committee often asks countries to block projects considered harmful, or to fine-tune management plans.
It can inscribe a site on the List in Danger. Only two areas have ever been fully deleted. UNESCO does not have powers to punish or fine.