Proposals by the Pike River Families Group Committee for the Pike River mine site and the surrounding area to be added to the Paparoa National Park and for the establishment of a new Great Walk between the mine site and Punakaiki have been welcomed by the Government, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said today.
“The families’ proposal for the mine and surrounding area to be added to the Paparoa National Park makes good sense. National park status is the highest protection classification possible. It automatically adds the area to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, which prohibits mining and also guarantees public access,” Dr Smith says.
“This will ensure the site where 29 miners lost their lives is properly respected and that families will always have access to their loved ones’ resting place.
“The area has high conservation values with its rugged landscape, pristine rivers and streams, rich podocarp and beech forest, and is home to threatened native species like the great spotted kiwi, blue duck (whio), kaka and kakariki. It would make a welcome addition to the 30,000-hectare Paparoa National Park.”
Dr Smith said he would be discussing the families’ park extension proposal with the New Zealand Conservation Authority at their meeting next Tuesday, and with the West Coast Conservation Board as required by the National Parks Act. Further consultation with the Pike River families on the specific area to be included will need to be undertaken.
Dr Smith said his preference was for the area’s status to be clarified before Solid Energy returns the site to the Department of Conservation about mid-year, to ensure no other company could lodge an application to mine the area.
“I also welcome the ambitious idea by the Pike River families for a new Great Walk from the Grey Valley to Punakaiki. This would be a spectacular two-day, 20-kilometre track into the heart of the Paparoa National Park’s impressive limestone landscapes and out to the internationally renowned Pancake Rocks,” Dr Smith says.
“This would make good use of the tens of millions of dollars that the mining company spent on the highway-class road and facilities. The new Great Walk would not only serve as an enduring memorial to the 29 miners, but it would also be an economic asset for the West Coast community which has suffered significantly from the loss of the mine.
“The construction of the proposed Great Walk through this rugged terrain will be a major undertaking. I have asked the Department of Conservation to carry out a feasibility study on its tourism potential and design challenges, including ascertaining the cost of constructing the track and hut facilities. The current Paparoa National Park plan does not provide for a Great Walk track or overnight hut facilities and would need to be reviewed.
“I will be having further discussion with the Pike River families on the detail of the proposal when I have received further advice on its viability.
“This proposal for an enlarged National Park and a new Great Walk is part of the families’ determination that some good might come from the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Pike River mine. The disaster has already resulted in a rewrite of New Zealand’s workplace laws and the creation of the new WorkSafe NZ agency. The concept of an expanded park, visitor centre and new track offers a positive way forward to memorialise the 29 men lost.”
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith is acting as Minister of Conservation for issues relating to Pike River due to Conservation Minister Maggie Barry being a close family relative of Bernie Monk, the spokesperson for the Pike River Families Group.