The Environmental Protection Authority is being accused of "breathtaking incompetence" for glitches and non-publication of some 18 documents relied on by the public in making submissions on the first application ever received for a seabed ironsands mining permit.
The EPA this morning extended the deadline for submissions on the application by Wellington-based Trans-Tasman Resources, which is seeking permission to mine a 66 square kilometre area in the Exclusive Economic Zone, some 22 kilometres off the south Taranaki coast.
Submissions were to have closed yesterday and had been the subject of a drive by a group opposing the development, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, which says it had received notice of more than 4,000 submissions being made against the project.
"That the EPA failed to publicly post Trans-Tasman Resources' seabed mining application form until the day after the public response period closed is breathtaking in its incompetence," said KASM spokesman Phil McCabe.
BusinessDesk understands Environment Minister Amy Adams has given the EPA a rocket on the mistakes, which appear to have been caused by a single EPA staffer who made errors in uploading the extensive TTR materials to the authority's website.
A table of the affected documents shows that three had been newly supplied and published for the first time today, including TTR's final application form for a permit, a bathymetric map of the mining area and an internal memo on the distribution of particles released in the mining process.
Another three were unavailable during the initial submission period because website links were incorrect, some six documents were drafts instead of final versions and were replaced during the submission period, five were uploaded late and one was not initially available.
The submission period has now been extended to Jan 28, and KASM is calling for the start date for public hearings, originally set to begin on Friday, March 7, also to be moved by a month to reflect the new submission period.
At this stage, the hearing date has been shifted to the following Monday, March 10, in a move which appears to minimise the potential cost to TTR of disruption to its timelines. TTR told BusinessDesk late last month it was targeting a mid-2014 round of capital and debt-raising for up to $500 million to export up to five million tonnes annually of ironsands for use in Asian steel mills from mid-2016.
TTR declined comment on the issue, other than to say "the EPA has been constructive through this process (of renotification) in trying to minimise disruption to TTR."
EPA chief executive Rob Forlong said in a statement that "any submissions that have already been made will remain valid and will be considered by the decision-making committee. However, people can choose to amend or replace their previous submission.
"It is important that all the relevant documents are available to the public for the entire submission period," he said. "The EPA is proactively taking this step to ensure that a robust, fair and transparent process is carried out."