A proposal to mine the Bay of Plenty seabed between Waihi Beach and Bowentown has alarmed politicians concerned at the implications for the area's "pristine" beaches.
"If it is going to do some good, then fine, but I am pretty damn skeptical," Western Bay District councillor for Katikati and Waihi Beach Mike Williams said.
He was responding to the application lodged with government agency New Zealand Petroleums and Minerals to carry out mining exploration for ilmenite - a titanium-iron oxide mineral that was the most important ore of titanium. Pacific Offshore Mining was also seeking exploration rights for iron sands and gold and silver deposits.
"I am no expert on seabed mining, but I find it fairly hard to swallow that there could be mining off pristine beaches like Waihi Beach. It is a gem," Cr Williams said. Given the lessons of Rena, he said he would have to be 100 per cent certain about safeguards to protect the beach. "I don't think I could be 100 per cent certain."
Tauranga's MP and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said it was incredibly early days in a "strenuous process" that could potentially take years to reach a conclusion. At this stage it was only an application for exploration rights and the company had not received any of the numerous permissions.
The first step was getting a permit from New Zealand Petroleums and Minerals. He said it required the agency to be satisfied about a number of things including the financial and technical capabilities of thed applicant. "They are high hurdles."
Read more: Tauranga city not quite world class, yet
If the agency was satisfied, the company then had to apply for a marine consent to prospect from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council - a public process. If the company obtained consent to prospect and testing showed that mining was commercially viable, it would then have to go through a a new consenting process to mine the seabed.
Mr Bridges said no company had received an offshore mining permit in New Zealand. "That should give those people with concerns real comfort about the high environmental and health standards that the company would have to meet."
He said the community would be able to have its say in open hearings run by the regional council, should the application get that far.
Mr Williams said the Rena grounding was still fresh in people's minds. "I would rather they went somewhere else, and did not mine off one of our best beaches," he said.
Coromandel Greens co-convenor Catherine Croft said it would be irresponsible for the Government to grant the exploration permit in such a beautiful part of New Zealand when the true impacts of seabed mining were not fully known. "We should be diversifying our economy into sustainable industries."
Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said there was a lack of public information about the application. "This is just an application to explore, it may well be turned down, we don't know that yet."
Company chief executive Neil Loftus did not respond by deadline to messages requesting an interview.
Pacific Offshore Mining's seabed mineral exploration proposal:
* Application area: 12,000 hectares, starting 2km offshore
* Exploration activity: Bulk sampling, drilling and mine feasibility studies.
* Exploration depths: 20 to 50 metres.