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Southland District Council Mayor Frana Cardno is very disappointed at today's decision by the Department of Conservation to move one step closer, subject to conditions and public process, to a private tunnel through New Zealand's internationally acclaimed World Heritage Fiordland and Aspiring National Parks.
The Department of Conservation's view is that with appropriate conditions, the impacts of the Milford Dart proposal are acceptable, but the department will take into consideration public consultation before making a final decision on the concession.
However, Mrs Cardno believes this project is inconsistent with the Conservation Act, the National Park Plans and is also inconsistent with the General Policy for National Parks.
She is urging everyone to have their say because the public has 40 days to make submissions on the proposal.
"We really need people to put submissions in - unfortunately the 40 days are in the middle of the build-up to Christmas and people are extremely busy, but this is just so important. We must fight this," she said.
"There are so many things wrong with this proposal - the tunnel is inconsistent with the New Zealand Tourism Strategy objectives as it will reduce the duration of stay within New Zealand as well as the daily spend and will limit visitor flows into the southern region.
"The existing Milford Road is recognised as one of the world's most picturesque tourist routes and there is no evidence that there is a demand for underground travel, in what can only be described as a seismically active area."
Mrs Cardno said one of the major misconceptions is that the tunnel will deliver passengers to Milford Sound.
"This is not correct as the tunnel will only deliver buses to close to the Homer Tunnel portal, which is the area of highest avalanche risk on the Milford Road. Visitors will still have about another 40km to travel before they get to Milford Sound."
The applicants have made a number of claims relating to this project being a low carbon transport option, but this is simply not possible because apart from the basics of transport and construction emissions, there will be ongoing emissions from tunnel-related water pumping, air extraction, fire suppression and so on, she said.
"This project must not be allowed to proceed as the tunnel does nothing to enhance access to and enjoyment of the Fiordland or Aspiring National Parks and if constructed, would allow an enduring private right over one of the world's most pristine National Parks," she said.
"These parks are set aside for the enjoyment of future generations and should not be carved up for big business."
Mrs Cardno is urging all New Zealanders to let their views be known by opposing this concession application via the public submission process.
"In my view, this is as big as Saving Manapouri.