Denniston mine project forges on despite delays

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The company at the centre of an environmental fight over its $1 billion plus West Coast coal mine continues to forge ahead despite being stalled in court by opponents and uncertainty over the timing of mining.

Bathurst Resources announced yesterday it had started work on the next stage of its $30 million port upgrade at Westport that will handle up to one million tonnes of coal a year extracted from an open cast project on a historic mine site at the nearby Denniston Plateau.

Plans have been thrown into limbo following objections by environmental groups worried about the effect on the plants and animals in the area and coal's role in climate change.

Bathurst's Escarpment Mine project has been held up for almost a year because of court action and at the weekend was cited by Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley as a reason why the consenting process needs overhauling.

Bathurst's share price has plunged from $1.70 last April to as low as 36c early this week, although yesterday bounced 5c to close at 41c.

The company's chief executive, Hamish Bohannan, said the delays were frustrating for the company and investors, about 9 per cent of whom are New Zealand-based.

"At the moment our share price is taking a bit of a hammering largely because of the uncertainty around the court action," Bohannan said.

"We understand it well here, we know this is a process and if we do all the right things and deliver there's no reason why we shouldn't come out the other end," he said.

"But for investors in Australia and in the Northern Hemisphere they're wondering what's going on, why there's all these appeals particularly when you're in an area of existing mining."

Although the company had a smaller mine on the West Coast and another in Southland producing revenue, Bohannan said he had no idea when work on the key Escarpment project would start.

Forest and Bird is part of the appeal against council consent granted last year and its advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said while he had nothing against Bathurst, the company and its investors should have done their homework before embarking on the project in an area with high conservation values.

"That is part of the commercial risk that its shareholders took on and they have to bear that risk," Hackwell said.

Hackwell said because Bathurst had its corporate origins in Australia, it appeared many investors thought it was mining in that country, rather than New Zealand where rules were generally tighter because mining was in more environmentally sensitive areas.

The Escarpment project area was home to rare native snails, weta and lizards, he said.

An Environment Court hearing on substantive issues set down for four weeks starts in October.

A one-day High Court hearing on whether climate change effects of projects can be part of resource consents was heard on Monday but the decision has been reserved.

Hamilton Hindin Greene analyst James Smalley said because significant cash flow was so far in the future for Bathurst, the company was being buffeted by market perception rather than helped by its actual performance.

Perception of the company had also been damaged by falling coal prices due to a slowdown of economic activity in China.

Smalley said: "Obviously the ongoing problem of not being able to push go on the project is not helping at all."

- NZ Herald

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