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Iron sand deposits 'world-class' resource

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/02/2017 Rebecca Howard

Trans Tasman Resource, which is making a second attempt to get consent to mine iron sands from the ocean floor in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, says the deposits are a "world-class" resource that could be lifting the economy.

"The iron sand resource off the west coast of the North Island is world class with enormous and currently untapped economic benefit for New Zealand," said Mike Holm, legal council for TTR, in his opening submission to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision-making committee hearing.

TTR is seeking permission to mine titano-magnetite iron sands on the seafloor off the coast of Whanganui. The company, which is 55 per cent New Zealand owned, proposes extracting 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year in order to export up to 5 million tonnes of iron sand per year for up to 35 years. Once the iron sand is extracted the remaining material is returned to the seabed.

The original bid was rejected in 2013 because of a lack of information about environmental impacts. At the time, much of the decision-making committee's concern related to the way surplus sand that didn't contain iron ore would be returned to the ocean floor. In particular, there were issues about how plumes of sand returning to seafloor would behave in the often turbulent waters.

The proposed mining area is outside the 12-mile nautical limit in an area that migratory species move through, and a large undersea desert of iron sands in which there are strong current and limited marine life.

Over the past two or so years since its bid was rejected, the company has undertaken "significant additional work" and has refined and updated its application, said Mr Holm. It has called on world-leading environmental experts to fill the gaps in evidence for the first hearing. So far the company has spent more than $70 million to get the project underway.

Those opposed to the project will have the opportunity to dispute TTR's evidence over the course of the hearing, which will run until March 20.

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