The convenor of a group opposed to an Australian mining company's plans at Puhipuhi says gold mining in Northland will not lead to El Dorado.
"It's a myth that gold mining in Puhipuhi would bring riches or jobs to the Northland region," Puhipuhi Mining Action Group convenor Jenny Kirk said.
She said the Waihi gold mine, for example, did not pay royalties to the New Zealand Government, and local people only received labouring jobs.
"Most of the profits from the goldmining goes to the overseas owners of the mines," Ms Kirk said. Waihi and Reefton, on the West Coast, have high unemployment rates and the median annual income is $20,000. New Zealand's tourism directly employs 100,000 people, dairying 35,000, but all mining (oil, coal, gold, etc) only 8000," Ms Kirk said.
Perth-based De Grey Mining has recently been given Department of Conservation permission to access sites on the public estate to take samples and do low-impact surveying.
Puhipuhi iwi Ngati Hau, other Hikurangi Swamp district residents and farmers are worried that gold mining would disturb the area's mercury-rich rock.
The local communities opposed any form of mining in the area, Ms Kirk said.
"Disturbing the rock, and with the heavy rains the area is known for, could result in mercury leaching out and getting into underground aquifers or into the main rivers which eventually run out to the Kaipara Harbour.
Government officials are working on an international agreement to protect human and environmental health from mercury released by human activity, to which New Zealand is likely to be a signatory.
Mercury is extremely poisonous and Puhipuhi is one of only three places in New Zealand which has it in its rocks and soil, Ms Kirk said.
There is documented evidence of health problems suffered by miners who worked at an old mercury mine in the Puhipuhi hills. In the past, locally quarried, mercury-laden gravel had to be removed from unsealed roads, and there were "dead" creeks and paddocks where the rock had leached or been dumped.
The Puhipuhi Mining Action Group is making a presentation to the Northland Regional Council's proposed regional policy statement.