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A decision about whether to dig up the South West New Zealand World Heritage area must be made by the responsible minister and not an official, the Green Party said today.
"Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson is dodging her responsibility for the decision over whether to allow a road tunnel to be dug in Fiordland National Park by delegating it to a Conservation Department manager," said Green Party conservation spokesperson Eugenie Sage.
"The Glenorchy Stop the Tunnel group's 25,000 signature petition, to be given to politicians this morning, shows how important and politically sensitive this decision is.
"Kate Wilkinson wants to avoid being involved in making what would be a highly controversial decision if the project is allowed to proceed, preferring to wash her hands off it and lumping it onto a second tier official.
"The risk is the department will approve this intrusive proposal because of the Government's low value of conservation and environmental protection but the Minister doesn't want to face the public outrage that would spark.
"She needs to do her job and take responsibility for this special place that needs to be protected and loved."
Milford Dart Ltd has proposed an 11.3 km private road tunnel through Te Wahi Pounamu, the South West World Heritage Area.
"The tunnel promoters want a huge waste rock dump in the Hollyford Valley and major engineering works there and at the approach to the Routeburn Track," Ms Sage said.
"New Zealanders love our wild places and want sound protection for them. This Government needs to uphold the protection which national park and world heritage status provides.
"We risk having one of our three World Heritage sites being classified as 'in danger' - a status we would share with countries like Afghanistan, Columbia, Ethiopia, Iraq and Niger.
"If the Government wants to use our clean green brand to grow exports it needs to protect our national parks on which our reputation rests."