Greens wage video war on $170m tunnel

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A political party’s provocative new video opposing the megabucks Milford-Dart tunnel exaggerates its environmental impact, the developer says. 

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage highlights 250,000 tonnes of waste rock and spoil which will be dumped on the Hollyford airstrip next to the Hollyford River – in a six-minute online clip, which features interviews with Glenorchy residents. 

Sage also claims construction of the 11.3km bus tunnel will be akin to mining in the two national parks it connects.
“It’s more nonsense really,” Milford Dart Ltd boss Tom Elworthy says. 

“There is quite a lot of material to come out, that’s true, but they are overestimating the impact. The impact of where [the material] will be placed will be minimal.” 

The tunnel would slash hours from the journey between Queenstown and Milford Sound. 

It would cut through from Mt Aspiring National Park, at the start of the Routeburn Track near Glenorchy, to Fiordland National Park. 

Sage says: “Mr Elworthy and his company are grossly understating the impacts. 

“It’s the equivalent of mining in a national park because of the large amount of waste rock that will be tunnelled out and dumped. 

“There’s the risk of acid mine drainage from that rock – which is very similar to mining for gold. 

“And there will be major earthworks needed on the approach to the Routeburn Track, and a very dramatic change on the visitors’ entrance to the track and at the Hollyford end.” 

Sage reiterates her calls for the decision on the tunnel to be made by the Conservation Minister rather than the Department of Conservation. 

Former Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson delegated the decision to DoC last year. MP Nick Smith has since taken over the portfolio. 

“This is not a normal application, it is a major assault on the World Heritage Area and the national parks. It’s such a significant decision that it should be made by the Minster,” Sage says. 

The video urges people to lobby DoC Director-General Al Morrison and Prime Minister John Key. 

Elworthy says he expects a decision on the tunnel in the first quarter of this year. 

Even if permission is granted by DoC, the $170m project will still need to go through the resource consent process. 

In the new video, Glenorchy residents focus on the need for slow tourism in New Zealand, saying people enjoy meandering through the spectacular road journey – instead of potentially shuttling people underneath it. 

Elworthy says: “But it is so slow that people are actually spending most of their time asleep on the bus. 

“The journey to Milford is lovely but people can go one way and come back through the tunnel.”