Minister blocks tunnel plan for Milford Sound

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Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith has declined a proposal to put a tunnel through national parks shortening trips to Milford Sound.

Smith announced this afternoon that he had turned down the proposal by Milford Dart Limited.

“I am declining this tunnel proposal because the environmental impacts are significant and beyond what is appropriate in two of New Zealand’s most spectacular National Parks and a World Heritage Area,” Smith said at a press conference.

The five-metre diameter, 11.3-kilometre long, one lane bus tunnel was proposed between the Dart Valley, adjacent to the Routeburn Track, through to Hollyford Valley.

The $180 million project would have halved the travel time for the 420,000 visitors per year who visit Milford Sound.

“This is a significant decision and I have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. I have met the applicants, studied the major reports, sought thorough advice, visited the site, and weighed up strong views of both the supporters and opponents,” Smith says.

Smith gave three major reasons for his decision

The first was that depositing half a million tonnes of tunnel spoil would permanently damage the natural and landscape values in Hollyford Valley.

The second was the impact new roads and portals at each end, and particularly the impacts on visitors at the entrance to the Routeburn Track.

Smith’s third major concern was engineering works and a tunnel are inconsistent with the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park Management Plans.

“I also have concerns about the economic viability and safety of this tunnel proposal. These issues are interrelated in that making a long narrow tunnel safe requires huge investment in ventilation and emergency systems. I am not satisfied that the tunnel can be safely built for a price that makes it economically viable. The risk for the Government under these circumstances is that corners are cut or the project is left half-completed with a clean-up liability for the public.

Smith revealed Milford Dart Ltd had late last week outlined an alternative tunnel approximately two kilometres longer which would relocate the eastern portal about three kilometres south east.

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

“I appreciate my decision will be a disappointment to the applicants and their supporters. I do not in any way criticise them for their entrepreneurial spirit or ambition to ease access for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Milford Sound.

Smith adds: “This is a conservative decision in which I have decided that nature deserves the benefit of any doubt.”