Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Two protest camps, Waihopai and Happy Valley

Apologies for the lack of posts of late, I have been out of town quite a bit, attending two protest camps in as many weeks. On 20th of January I travelled north to join the call of the Anti-Bases Campaign to close the Waihopai spy base, and last weekend I crossed the Southern Alps to join the occupation of the proposed open cast coal mine site at Happy Valley on the West Coast.

An 'indefinite' occupation was launched following a High Court decision last month to reject Forest and Bird's appeal against an Environment Court ruling in favour of mining. The mine threatens to destroy a completely unique tussock wetland that is a home to 13 endangered species, including the great spotted kiwi and the giant carnivorous snail powelliphanta patrickensis. Rivers will be polluted by acid mine drainage and twelve million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

The occupation of Happy Valley has been welcomed by Greenpeace.

Ongoing reports of the indefinite occupation can be read on the Save Happy Valley blog; "The beauty and expanse of Happy Valley is poignantly contrasted with the scarred and devastated landscape that is the Stockton open cast coal mine located not far from Happy Valley."

We travelled by van over to Westport on Friday and undertook the four hour tramp into Happy Valley the next day. It actually ended up taking us over six hours to get to our campsite as the weather was very hot and dry, making a long half-time break at a swimming hole absolutely essential. It was easily the best swimming hole I have ever been to, complete with many deep pools and waterfalls. One could get a great adrenalin rush by leaping from the tall banks of the river or the top of the waterfall into the pool below. It was completely safe, despite it being a long way down.

After a brilliant swim I was aghast to hear the brilliant swimming hole is also on Solid Energy's 'hit list' for mining once they have finished digging up Happy Valley. It is also possible the swimming hole will be polluted by the proposed Cypress Mine if the development in Happy Valley goes ahead.

Despite it being a very hot day, we had to be careful where we filled our water bottles, as some of the streams in the area are already polluted by acid runoff from the existing Stockton Open Cast mine. The water from the pristine streams tastes great.

It was really inspiring to see 75 people join our camp on the Saturday night. There was a great sense of community, even though people were tired from a long tramp saddled with heavy packs. Actions like this take a lot of commitment and sunscreen.

Solid Energy have continued to harass and attempt to intimidate protestors, even though the 'occupation' is occurring on public land. This has included attempting to deliver dodgy 'preemptive' trespass notices and continuing to film protestors against their wishes. Save Happy Valley Coalition spokesperson Frances Mountier said she believes security guards filmed the protestors as "a means to intimidate and quell any public opposition to what they (Solid Energy) are doing".

A spokesperson for Solid Energy Vicki Blyth disputes they are adopting intimidatory tactics, and claims they asked security guards to film protestors to ensure they had a record of any exchanges between the security people and protestors, "So that there can be no question about who said what to whom."

Well I happen to know personally this excuse is simply a croc of shit. If this was so, then Solid Energy would not have attempted to instigate 'exchanges' (under false pretences) with each of those taking part, by asking people if they would like to read a statement from Solid Energy and then shoving a camera in their face. But that is exactly what they attempted to do to me while I was standing on a Christchurch public footpath and had shown no interest in being on Solid Energy's land. Passively filming while security guards do they job is one thing, attempting to capture the faces of all your perceived opponents on camera is quite another.

We fell asleep listening to the calls of kiwi and other wildlife and hoped they could keep their natural home.

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