Nick Smith to make final Fiordland decision
Monday 25 Feb 2013 5:42 p.m.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith says he'll make the final call on the two radical new tourist routes planned for the journey between Queenstown and Milford Sound.
The competing schemes would bypass the arduous nine-hour return bus journey tourists currently make through Te Anau.
It's the gateway to Fiordland National Park, but the tiny township of Te Anau could disappear off the tourist map if Dr Smith gives the green light on the Milford Dart Tunnel or monorail link.
“They are massive projects, and they are of sufficient significance that the decision should be made by the minister,” says Dr Smith. “We are talking about public land, and I think it needs to be made by a person who is publicly elected and accountable.”
He's only been in the job a month, and Dr Smith has put himself in charge of the two projects.
The first is an 11km tunnel, which will link the existing Routeburn Rd to the Hollyford Rd, allowing tourists to visit the Milford Sound in just two hours.
The second plan involves a 43km monorail ride through the Snowdon Forest.
Both routes would bypass Te Anau and business owners there worry the minister won't consider them in his decision.
“I've very concerned about the situation now that it is going to be purely made on a financial basis, not on the basis on the impact that it could have on our tourism,” says motel owner Nigel Humphries.
“I hope that he really does his homework and considers our heritage, and our wilderness, and how unique it is,” says Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno.
The backers of the tunnel scheme have been waiting seven years for a decision. They're hoping Dr Smith won't waste any time.
“We are pleased there's some progress being made and so momentum can hopefully be brought to this process and hopefully bring it to a close,” says Milford Dart managing director Tom Elworth.
Prime Minister John Key's also pleased his minister's getting things moving.
Dr Smith is planning to visit the affected areas before he makes a decision at the end of the year.