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Shock at unabated monorail progress

Conservation Minister Nick Smith’s visit to Fiordland last week proved to be a catalyst for anti-monorail sentiment.

Dr Smith surveyed the DOC and private land proposed for the 43km, $200 million elevated railway last Wednesday, and subsequently released a Commissioner’s report recommending that he give the project a green light.

In the 72 hours following Dr Smith’s inspection, Save Fiordland, which is leading the opposition to the proposal, had recorded a 25 percent spike in supporters to its Facebook page, reaching 3000 over the weekend.

Save Fiordland president Bill Jarvie said this was a reflection of astonishment from across the country and around the world.

“It’s general disappointment and amazement that the minister could still be considering this extremely damaging proposal,” he said. “New Zealand is still considered to be the guardian of its wild places.”

“The threatening monorail would be of no benefit to our community, and clearly always has been an attempt to get people into a controlled and inescapable tourist operation,” Mr Jarvie said. “As a result, even without our prompting, people have come forward expressly to speak up.”

The upsurge in support and comment had included some well known and respected New Zealanders who might throw their weight behind the cause, Mr Jarvie said.

The Commissioner’s report was welcomed by Riverstone Holdings Ltd., the Lakes District property developers managing the monorail project.

Riverstone managing director Bob Robertson said development had been an eight-year process working in consultation with the Department of Conservation.

“We agree with the Commissioner that it meets the required legal tests and is able to be granted with conditions that carefully manage its impact,” Mr Robertson said.

The monorail is the largest part of the Fiordland Link Experience, a proposed tourist package between Queenstown and Te Anau Downs which the proponents claim has the potential to provide 65 full-time jobs and the goal of delivering an additional 20,000 annual visitors to Fiordland.

Dr Smith is expected to make a final decision on the monorail before the end of the year.

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