Mining for gold no go for groups

By Lindy Laird

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With gold exploration tipped to start within weeks, anti-mining groups are repeating their message that mining is not welcome in the Puhipuhi hills.

Australian company de Grey Mining is rumoured to be ready to start the groundwork, and the Government is saying mining could be a key to unlocking economic wealth in Northland.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said this week the region was an economic backwater that would benefit from mining.

Mr Joyce said the poorest of 16 regions, Northland and the East Coast needed to drop opposition to mining and oil exploration if they wanted to become wealthier.

Whangarei MP Phil Heatley also said mining would have "immense" benefits for the region. Mr Heatley said he understood people's fears but modern mining companies operated under strict conditions.

Mr Joyce's regional economic activity report released on Wednesday showed Northland's average annual household income at $60,000, slightly lower than the East Coast region, and in contrast to the national average of $80,000.

Puhipuhi Mining Action Group (PMAG), Ngati Hau, Minewatch Northland, farmers and other groups are opposing mining in the gold-rich area. They have been staging a highly visible peaceful protest at the corner of Puhipuhi Rd and State Highway 1.

High mercury levels at Puhipuhi have the potential to poison farmland and water supplies, Reverend Thelma Connor of Ngati Hau said. Local health problems caused by mercury during historic quarrying at Puhipuhi have been well documented.

PMAG convenor Jenny Kirk said there were safer, more sustainable ways than looking for gold to grow Northland's economy.

Proponents of mining do not tell people it would not begin for at least five years so jobs and economic growth were a long way off, she said. Nor would exploration drilling at Puhipuhi bring big money to the region.

"Perhaps hireage of contractors' equipment and accommodation for their drillers. Other jobs will be done by their experts, who they'll bring in from elsewhere."

Central and local governments would be better off supporting tourism and eco-tourism projects, where there was potential for growth, Ms Kirk said.

Reviving plans for two hydro-electric stations near Purua and developing an eel (tuna) export industry were also viable projects the Government could get behind, she said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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