Smith rejects $180 mln Dart tunnel proposal, cites environmental impact

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith has rejected a proposal to build a $180 million tunnel in Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks by a company aiming to halve travel times for the 420,000 people that visit Milford Sound each year.

The five-metre diameter, 11.3-kilometre long, one-lane bus tunnel was proposed by Milford Dart Limited to run between the Dart Valley, adjacent to the Routeburn Track, through to Hollyford Valley.

“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,” Smith said in a statement.

“This is a significant decision and I have given it a great deal of thought and consideration,” Smith said. “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.”

The proposal was rejected because of the impact of 500,000 tonnes of tunnel spoil on the natural and landscape values in Hollyford Valley, the impact of new roads, especially on visitors at the entrance to the Routeburn track and because the plan was inconsistent with the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Park Management Plans, Smith said.

Milford Dart had presented an alternative proposal for a longer tunnel further to the southeast to Smith last week but the minister said he hadn’t received any technical advice and there was insufficient information to make a decision.

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