Growth Versus Environmental Conservation: New Zealand Ponders Monorail Construction

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 18, 2013 4:26 PM EST

Environmental conservationists and growth advocates in New Zealand are currently at each other's necks over a planned construction of a monorail that will slice through the country's pristine forests and rivers made famous in the trilogy films "The Lord of the Rings."

The monorail, expected to cost NZ$200 million ($165 million), will pass through the Snowden Forest in New Zealand's South Island which is classified a UNESCO world heritage area.

"The idea that you could carve a double line through the center of that incredibly beautiful piece of forest doesn't make sense," Sarah McCrum, a former manager at the Takaro Lodge on the edge of the Snowden Forest, was quoted by Bloomberg News.

"There really isn't a valid reason not to approve this," Bob Robertson, chairman and majority shareholder of Riverstone Holdings Ltd., the company that will construct the monorail called Fiordland Link. "It's going to be essential that not only us but others facilitate tourism and spend some money on infrastructure."

The national government seems to be torn in a tug-of-war on the matter.

A spokeswoman for New Zealand Conservation Minister Nick Smith said he's prolonging on a decision because he's still waiting on advice from his officials. It's unlikely the decision will come out this year, he said.

To attract tourists, New Zealand markets its pristine forests, mountains and waterways. It stamps the "100% Pure" tag on its dairy, meat and kiwifruit exports.

Nevertheless, the government also wants to increase tourism, build more infrastructure, and scout and explore more resources to diversify the country's economy which has long been mainly dependent on dairy farming.

Tourism is a major contributor to the country's GDP, at about 8.7 per cent per annum. Ten years ago, it was at 10 per cent annually.

"Environmentalists need to be open to the fact that not all economic growth is necessarily bad," John Ballingall, deputy chief executive at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research Inc., told Bloomberg. "It doesn't have to be a binary choice between growth and no-growth."

"Our National Parks and World Heritage area were created to protect and preserve the beauty of our country for all New Zealanders," Peter Jackson, film director of the "Lord of the Rings" films, said. "If we don't conserve our natural heritage, we will lose it."

The Fiordland Link project expects to carry as many as 300,000 people a year. It is expected to give 140 construction jobs and work for another 300 suppliers.

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