The tunnel project proposed by Milford Dart Limited would have run through the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks. “I am declining this tunnel proposal because the environmental impacts are significant and beyond what is appropriate in two of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks and a World Heritage area,” said Smith.
The 5m-diameter one-lane bus tunnel was proposed to run from the Dart Valley to Hollyford Valley. The NZ$180m project would have halved the travel time for the 420,000 visitors per year who visit Milford Sound.
“This is a significant decision and I have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. I have met the applicants, studied the major reports, sought thorough advice, visited the site, and weighed up strong views of both the supporters and opponents,” said Smith.
“There are three major reasons for declining this tunnel application. The first is that depositing half a million tonnes of tunnel spoil would permanently damage the natural and landscape values in Hollyford Valley. The second is the impact of the new roads and portals at each end, and particularly the impacts on visitors at the entrance to the Routeburn track. My third concern is that the engineering works and tunnel are inconsistent with the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park management plans.
“I also have concerns about the economic viability and safety of this tunnel proposal. These issues are interrelated in that making a long narrow tunnel safe requires huge investment in ventilation and emergency systems. I am not satisfied that the tunnel can be safely built for a price that makes it economically viable. The risk for the government under these circumstances is that corners are cut or the project is left half-completed with a clean-up liability for the public.
“Milford Dart Ltd late last week outlined an alternative tunnel that would be approximately two kilometres longer and which would relocate the eastern portal about three kilometres south east. This is a significantly different proposal on which I have not received any technical advice, and of which neither the public nor the hearing commissioner has had the opportunity to consider. I have determined that I have insufficient information to make a decision on this alternative.
“I appreciate my decision will be a disappointment to the applicants and their supporters. I do not in any way criticise them for their entrepreneurial spirit or ambition to ease access for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Milford Sound. This is a conservative decision in which I have decided that nature deserves the benefit of any doubt.”