The Coromandel - a scenic wonderland and tourist mecca.

But more recently it's seen as a rich source of gold with a number prospecting applications from international mining companies.

Local anti-mining group, Coromandel Watchdog may have to go to court to stop them but
now that may be a lot harder to do.

"Coromandel Watchdog and other not-for-profit groups have previously relied on a government fund called the Environmental Legal Assistance fund," Coromandel Watchdog member Augusta Macassey-Pickard says. "And it's been very sad for us to see the government change the criteria."

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The Environmental Legal Assistance Fund was set up in 2001 by the Clark Government as part of a deal with the Green Party.

The aim was to help pay the legal bills for conservation groups taking on companies over "matters of national significance".

But a change which came into effect last month, means the money can't be used against projects that provide "social, economic and cultural well-being in relation to important needs such as employment, housing, and infrastructure."

In other words, if it employs people, you can't use government funds to fight it.

The Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says the new criteria is not a blanket ban on funding but one consideration among many. In a written statement he says, "it does not make sense for the taxpayer to be funding legal aid for lawyers to be arguing against new housing or infrastructure projects... while other agencies of Government are facing lawyers arguing the opposite."

That could put Coromandel Watchdog on the back foot against gold mining companies. If Coromandel Watchdog's application for funds were to be denied, they'd have to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet legal costs.

"We developed a calendar which generated funds," Kuaotunu Anti-Mining Action Group member Martin Smith says. "We have all sorts of other ways like direct donations from people, our members and other people that are concerned with keeping the Coromandel as it is."

Mrs Macassey-Pickard says she'll just keep doing whatever she can do. "Where there's a will there's a way. I'm a second generation person trying to stop mining on the Coromandel. My parents before me did it. I have a little boy and I am really hopeful that he won't be doing it one day, but needs must."

The Ministry for the Environment is currently assessing several other ELA funding applications. The outcome of which will indicate how much harder Coromandel Watchdog's battle will be.

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