West Coast company still fighting for pipeline through conservation land despite backlash

A West Coast company is still battling for permission to build a pipeline on conservation land to take freshwater for export, despite widespread public backlash.

Jackson Bay is home to a handful of permanent residents, but quietly bubbling away are plans to export water from a pristine creek high in the mountains - a UNESCO world heritage area.

Two years ago, Newshub revealed the proposed pipeline would go through a Kiwi sanctuary and out into Jackson Bay, to a floating platform.

It prompted thousands of New Zealanders to sign a petition opposing it, with local wildlife conservation workers raising concerns that it would also impact the habitat of the Hector's dolphins and tawaki penguins.

Despite that, nearby landowners say the Department of Conservation (DoC) has been renewing the consent for decades - without telling the public.

"No one was able to submit on the concept of taking a pipeline out to sea and having tankers discharge ballast water into the sea in return for taking water away," said local Nick Terpstra.

Kevin Hague, Forest & Bird chief executive, is also concerned.

"Those commercial considerations shouldn't be put ahead of the interests of biodiversity and our rarest kiwi [the Haast Tokoeka]."

But DoC has now asked the company to provide it with more evidence for why they should grant the application this time around.

Terpstra said the sanctuary should be left alone.

"If a sanctuary is a place where by law you can't interfere and where animals can breed without interference, it seems a bit ridiculous to put a pipeline through the middle of it," he said.

Eugenie Sage, now Conservation Minister, strongly opposed it back in 2017.

"The company will get rich with no benefits to the local community," she said at the time.

But now as Minister, she is forced to stay neutral.

"That's a statutory decision and I'm not going to comment on that."

Part of the consent requires the company to take over pest control in the sanctuary from DOC, an area of more than 11 thousand hectares.

Nick Terpstra doubts they could ever be successful.

"It's a huge catchment, goes all the way to the skyline. It's hard to imagine how they'll be successful, it's difficult enough with 1080."

A spokesperson for Okuru Enterprises told Newshub they've had offshore interest in the water project over the years and they're currently undergoing ecological work to support renewing their access to DOC land.

The consent will be open to consultation in the coming months.