Tunnel protesters address Queenstown

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Protesters against the Milford Dart Tunnel will present a 23,000-signature petition to MP Bill English next week. 

More than 150 people attended a public meeting at Queenstown’s Memorial Hall last night (Sunday), organised by Glenorchy’s Stop the Tunnel and Te Anau’s Save Fiordland protest groups.

They are fighting plans by firm Milford Dart Limited to cut an 11.3km private tunnel through mountains in two national parks near Glenorchy as a shortcut to Milford Sound.

The $170 million tunnel would shorten the 600km bus journey by 360km. Only 40 buses a day would be allowed the make the round trip, and the tunnel would not be open to the public.

The groups are also opposed to the proposed Fiordland Link Experience monorail through Department of Conservation’s Snowdon Forest to Te Anau Downs.

Those who attended the meeting heard the issue has now gained widespread international attention with the projects seen as contradicting New Zealand’s ‘100% Pure NZ’ tourism branding.

The group’s petition against the tunnel, which started with 1000 local signatures, has now gained support from around the world.

Petition organiser Patricia Ko says: “It started with people just in the region but slowly started to spread out.

“When the story was picked up internationally it just went mad. We’ve had signatures from the UK, Holland and an enormous amount from Australia, and also lots from the USA and Asia. Many of these people have been to the region and want to come back.”

More than a dozen Glenorchy residents, tourism bosses, lawyers, politicians and group members gave short speeches at the meeting. No representatives of Milford Dart Ltd spoke at the meeting.

The speakers outlined the potential damage to wildlife, the environment and communities.

The Department of Conservation has signalled its intention to grant Milford Dart Limited a concession to build a tunnel in Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park, both of which have UNESCO World Heritage status.

More than 1,200 written submissions have been made to DoC, with 800 opposing the plans.

There is no exact time frame for the decision, but it could be made by the end of August.

Glenorchy resident Dr Leslie van Gelder says: “We don’t see this as progress. Progress isn’t building a tunnel through a national park to speed people in and out of it. That’s actually the opposite.

“Our feeling has been that Queenstown hasn’t been in the conversation so far, but we’re hoping that will change.

“The proposal is so bizarre we think there is a belief is Queenstown that it will never come to pass. But it just might so we have to act.”