A peaceful protest march to the offices of Hauraki mayor John Tregidga delivered a message that he did not speak for all locals when he publicly berated Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage's decision to block a Waihi land sale for new mining infrastructure.
The mayor, who has announced he will not restand for election this year, met the group outside before the full council meeting in Paeroa on Wednesday last week before handing over to deputy mayor Toby Adams.
The group had announced it would hand over a new mayoral chain to Tregidga, "a chain weighed down by the gold industry". They waved banners as they stood to debate mining under conservation land, on and under the Karangahake area and the mayor's reaction to a recent decision by Minister Sage to disallow a land sale to OceanaGold for a new tailings facility near Waihi.
"Waihi Martha Mine is a tradition, it has been going for ages and there's good and bad," said one of the protesters, Waihi local Colin Francis. "We accept that when we go to live there. But Karangahake is a whole different ball game."
Protect Karangahake spokeswoman Beccy Dove said a "heated" debate with Mr Adams seemed to indicate the council was focused on how it was tied by government legislation.
"But at the same time the council is downing Eugenie Sage for her stance.
"The mayor is definitely supporting the mining industry and those comments alarmed me, that he is supporting mining as a future in the area, wanting to have a new tailings facility built, and that he is supportive of mining under conservation land [The Waihi Leader May 24].
"There are a lot of people that would not want that."
Minister Sage halted a land purchase by Oceana Gold through her powers under the Overseas Investment Act. The farm land on the outskirts of Waihi would have allowed the company to extend its investment in underground mining beyond the life of the mine, currently about 2028.
OceanaGold spokesman Kit Wilson said the land would be used for tailings storage — the rock left behind after processing.
"We employ somewhere between 360 and 380 people, we're responsible for about 40 per cent of the town's economic throughput, between 15 and 20 per cent of Hauraki District's throughput, and depending which survey you look at, we do have very strong support in the town, as made obvious with Minister Sage's decision."
Thames-Coromandel mayor Sandra Goudie said she supported the stance by Hauraki mayor John Tregidga, who criticised Sage's decision.
Green MP Catherine Delahunty questioned why the council had not progressed a strategy to encourage alternative economic growth opportunities to mining.
"We appreciate that the mayor and Toby Adams were prepared to talk to us but they are trusting information provided by the industry and don't have a vision for no mining.
"We have to realise that going under conservation land still means industrialising that mountain. We just want Schedule 4 to be really clear — no mining means no mining."
Among the protesters who travelled to Paeroa were members of the Kuaotunu Anti-Mining Action Group on the Coromandel.
"We came to send a message from the Peninsula and believe we need to stop it here before anything creeps up the Coromandel," said Shirley Willey.
Martin Smith, a geologist of Kuaotunu and also among protesters, said he had concerns around dewatering and subsidence if underground mining were allowed on conservation land.
"It's a dangerous precedent once they start drilling. If it's okay to go underground on conservation land, and it's okay not to consult, where does it stop?" Kit Wilson from OceanaGold says there has been a number of public statements made recently about the modern gold mining industry "and the alleged damage we do to communities and the environment that are either misunderstandings, misinformation or mischief. We are always keen to set the record straight.
"Many of our employees are local people who are members of sports teams, clubs and volunteer groups. We have been actively involved in our community for over 30 years. The wages and salaries from mining in Waihi put money in the pockets of 380 people. Payments to local and regional businesses add to that.
"The water in our closed tailings storage facility is clean, and it has been flowing into the Ohinemuri River since 2006. There are cattle grazing on the slopes of this storage bund. Nearby we have planted over half a million native trees and shrubs.
"We invite those who gathered outside the Council offices last week to arrange a visit to OceanaGold's Waihi operation. We would appreciate the opportunity listen to their concerns and to present the facts about modern gold mining, rather than talking past each other through the media."