Wilderness magazine - September 2013

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Worth reading. As is Bill Jarvie's article in the Dominion.

September's edition of Wilderness magazine has published articles and made editorial comment about the monorail proposal. See particularly that written by Mick Abbott on pages 94 and 95. It helps to redress some of the issues raised by Bob Robertson's opinion piece published in The Dominion on 12 September.

Bill Jarvie, Chairperson on Save Fiordland, has had published in the Dominion on 16 September, the following reply to Bob Robertson's opinion piece:

OPINION: Conservation Minister Nick Smith should turn down plans for a monorail through Fiordland forest, writes Bill Jarvie.

Plans for a scheme that would see a monorail pushed through remote Fiordland beech forest and river valleys simply do not stack up, and would be a disaster for the region and the country.

The concept of a three-stage boat-bus-monorail link from Queenstown to the road to Milford Sound is not, as Bob Robertson claims, an initiative conceived to address the current needs of tourism (Scaremongers putting forest monorail at risk, Sept 12).

It was first promoted more than 17 years ago. In its present format it has been around for nearly a decade.

The "experience" would not reduce the travel time for Milford Sound tourists. Once off-loaded from the monorail they would be bussed for another 1 1/2 hours to Milford. In one day they would endure a minimum of 12 changes of transport in a convoluted return trip.

What has changed from inception is that the intended destination of the monorail is to the company's hotel/restaurant site at Te Anau Downs, avoiding tourist-dependent Te Anau.

Te Anau is vibrant and superbly set up with international class hotels, award-winning motels and restaurants. It is the most appropriate destination en route to Milford Sound.

Again, none of thecompany's publicity mentions the existing tourism and accommodation options and the several towns that would be rendered backwaters should this proposal capture the tourist numbers it would require to be economic.

In order to achieve the numbers, Riverstone would construct more than 29 kilometres of elevated concrete and steel monorail plus permanent parallel construction-maintenance roading through remote World Heritage forest and river valleys.

Contrary to the images that Riverstone has distributed, the entire monorail proposal is one of industrial scale development with massive structures only seen in large cityscapes.

Anyone who is familiar with southern beech forests knows that a six-metre-wide clearance for a high-speed train is nonsense.

A minimum of 20,000 trees would be felled, including red beech several hundred years old. Forest cleared in continuous swaths of undisclosed width would be cut across hillsides in what the Department of Conservation describes as an "outstanding natural landscape", with ongoing felling of potentially dangerous trees and the regular cutting of forest regrowth.

The river flats would be scarred with the continuous elevated beams and supporting piers every 20 metres.

The adjacent gravel road would carry construction vehicles such as trucks, excavators and drilling rigs. It would be permanent because of the need for maintenance and emergency evacuation of tourists tens of kilometres from any public road.

MR Robertson's comparison with the Cairns Skytrail is amusing. The Skytrail is a leisurely traverse of the tree tops through what was already a developed landscape. Trees were specifically avoided, not felled.

Passengers can step out at mid- stations to experience the forest interior from boardwalks and lookouts, and spend time in an interpretation centre.

To meet its timetable the monorail ride would be at speeds up to 90kmh through a blur of forest interior.

Mr Robertson attempts to dress this up as an environmental experience for tourist seeking the 100% pure New Zealand. The Dominion Post has aptly described the ride: "its whizzing caravan of gawkers an insult to the thing that brought them in the first place." (Editorial, June 22)

The Snowdon Forest Conservation Area is already a highly valued and accessible introduction to New Zealand's natural environment.

DOC publicity describes the monorail's starting point as "one of the best opportunities in Southland for introducing families to tramping and the outdoors".

The very area the monorail would cut through is where people who actually value it walk in, and pass through on foot if heading to more demanding country. The proposed development would destroy the very heart of what makes it so special to those who put some personal effort into gaining the experience.

There are already better means for tourists of all capabilities to experience what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

There are hundreds of non- destructive concessionaires, many of whom have been vocal in their opposition to this proposal.

To improve the value of the tourism sector we need to preserve our unique environment in order to attract higher value longer-stay visitors rather than go for volume by appealing to mass market short-term visitors.

New Zealand and the world have limited resources so our approach should be to protect what we have rather than continuously erode it away around the edges.

Mr Robertson should be concerned about Conservation Minister Nick Smith's imminent decision on the concession application. DOC commissioned independent audits on the proposal's engineering credibility and environmental impacts have repeatedly warned of significant and unresolved concerns over logistical difficulties and unmitigated impacts on this untouched part of the World Heritage Area.

Bill Jarvie is the chairman of Save Fiordland.