Conservation Minister Nick Smith is reserving judgment on official advice he has released cautiously supporting the proposed 29 kilometre, six metre-wide monorail, a key element in a $200 million Queenstown to Lake Te Anau tourism venture.
Smith visited the site of the proposed monorail terminus, at Te Anau Downs, a destination placed between the tourist service towns of Te Anau and Milford Sound.
The official advice, from the Department of Conservation and Hearing Commissioner recommends he "approve the project subject to extensive conditions.'' That is the opposite of advice that saw Smith reject the Milford-Dart tunnel because of its impact on Fiordland National Park.
"This ambitious $200 million project involves the building of the world's longest monorail to enhance the experience of the hundreds of thousands of visitors travelling between Queenstown and Milford Sound,'' Smith said in a statement after meeting with the applicants, Riverstone Holdings, controlled by millionaire Wanaka property developer Bob Robertson.
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"I wanted to see for myself the areas affected by the construction of the two terminals and the 29.5-kilometre long, six-metre wide corridor that would be cleared to make way for the monorail through public conservation land,'' said Smith, who also examined the Snowdon Forest, an area of conservation stewardship land just outside the boundaries of the Fiordland National Park.
"This monorail decision will be no easier than that of the Milford Tunnel. I am very protective of National Parks like Fiordland and this project has the advantage of being largely outside it.
"However, the monorail still requires clearance of a large area of forest on public conservation land. The submissions process also shows there are strongly held views both in support and in opposition to this project.
"I am releasing the official reports from DOC and the Hearing Commissioner because of the level of public interest in this proposal. I want to be open about the advice I have received and the issues I must consider.''
Smith will also discuss the issue with the New Zealand Conservation Authority and "consider further advice from DOC on the World Heritage status of the area.''
"I hope to be in a position to make a decision before year's end,'' he said, and would reflect on the issue while walking the Milford Track in the next few days as part of its 125th anniversary.