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UNDERSEA IRON SANDS DECISION MAKING

4Sight was engaged by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to assist the decision-making committee (DMC) considering an application to mine iron sands within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

THE PROJECT

Trans Tasman Resources applied under the EEZ Act to mine 50 million tonnes a year of seabed material within the EEZ off the South Taranaki coast, for a period of 35 years. The Act applies to activities more than 12 nautical miles (22 km) offshore, and consent was required for both the mining and its associated discharge of material back to the sea floor.

The decision making responsibility was delegated from the EPA to the DMC. Our role was to work with the DMC and prepare the decision report. The purpose of the decision report was to document the significant range of evidence presented at the hearing, and to present the findings of the DMC.

THE OUTCOME

The DMC’s decision was to grant the consent, subject to an extensive suite of conditions setting discharge and receiving environment standards, operational management, and other environmental controls. We fulfilled our role by completing the 350 + page decision report in the available timeframe, to a standard acceptable to the DMC and the EPA. The decision report covered a wide range of matters including, among other things, the science and effects of suspended sediment; the potential for noise effects on marine mammals; and the relationship of effects to customary (iwi) fisheries.

Having worked closely with the DMC and EPA’s legal counsel, our final version of the decision report required only very minor editing after its submission to the EPA.

THE APPROACH

Our role in this project required intensive involvement over a period of six months. At the outset we were required to be familiar with the application and its supporting documents (which totalled approx. 4,000 pages of material). We attended most of the 22 days of hearing and the DMC’s  deliberations which spanned 27 days.

The project required us to establish a strong and trusted relationship with all members of the DMC, as well as the EPA. As a neutral advisor, we had to distil evidence for the DMC in a way that avoided any judgements about its value to the final decision (which was the DMC’s role). At times this was a very reactive role in response to various substantive issues pursued by the DMC during their deliberations. In doing so, we researched background reports, collated and summarised evidence, and prepared working drafts of the decision report.

As part of our work for the client, we were required to:

  • Contribute to the DMC’s decision making process in a neutral but productive way;
  • Understand the legal framework established by the Exclusive Economic Zone Act;
  • Have an in-depth understanding of the issues and evidence;
  • Distil and clearly present evidential themes from within background reports, individual briefs of written evidence, and daily hearing transcripts;
  • Link facts and evidence to proposed and final consent conditions; and
  • Accurately represent the findings of the DMC.

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