Frana Cardno was popping Champagne with her grandson on the other side of the world last Thursday after the Fiordland monoral proposal was declined.
The Save Fiordland executive committee member and former Southland mayor said she was in San Diego being kept informed by her colleagues, who were gathered at the Olive Tree Café in Te Anau awaiting the decision from Conservation Minister Nick Smith.
The call came through at the same time as I saw it on Stuff news, and I must admit I had a few tears of joy,” Mrs Cardno said.
It had been a long journey, one that began when Mrs Cardno was Southland mayor and the proposal was presented by Queenstown businessman Philip Phillips, she said.
“Our council of course had a submission in against it and spoke against it,” she said. “There were many ministers before Minister Smith but I think that the government was aware that there was a large opposition against it, and of course anyone in a governance role has to be aware of what the people are thinking.”
“Top marks to Nick Smith for recognising the things we were saying all the time, the effects on the environment, it hadn’t gone through the correct process, financially it wasn’t viable,” she said. “It should never have been granted a concession to start with.”
The failure of the monorail was not a sign that any investment in Fiordland was off the table, Mrs Cardno said.
“I think there will be more development in Fiordland. I think that there’s very good concessionaires in Fiordland, and big ones, that work with the environment and use the environment as the selling point for their product, which is what tourists come to see.”
“I just hope that in the future the homework is done by both the concessionaire and the Department of Conservation before any work is done.”
Minister of Conservation Dr Nick Smith said on Thursday that the business plan and the environmental impact were equally significant factors in his decision.
“You can’t really separate the questions of financial viability from those of environmental sustainability. My experience is that if companies are under financial pressure, they shortcut.”
Having visited the site twice to get an appreciation for it, he concluded that impacts on the mohua, our native bat, and the forest ecology would have been too great for the project to be justified, Dr Smith said.
“I know there has been frustration in communities like Te Anau where they have felt I have not given what they considered straight answers over the last 12 months,” he said. “And uncertainty can be quite tough on a community like Te Anau where people may be deferring investment decisions.”
While public opinion was a factor, the quality rather than the quantity of any petition signatures was the critical element, Dr Smith said.
“I emphasise with these sorts of policies it’s not a numbers game with who signed a petition.”