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'We're not going away,' says seabed miner, as EPA appeal dropped

Would-be seabed miner Trans-Tasman Resources has dropped its appeal against its rejected proposal to vacuum ironsands off the ocean floor far offshore in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, preferring to save the legal costs and consider a fresh application to mine sands in shallow waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone, some 26 kilometres offshore from Patea.

The environmental group that has campaigned against the proposal, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) welcomed the decision as a "victory for commonsense".

However, TTR's outgoing chief executive, Tim Crossley, told BusinessDesk from the company's sparsely staffed Wellington office: "We're not going away.

"These projects don't take five or ten or 20 years. It's the inter-generational design of a technological solution for marine mining systems."

The company does not have annual accounts filed with the Companies Office, but is understood to have a significant cash pile left, despite throwing around $65 million at the project since it was incorporated in September 2007.

The company had been advised by the Environmental Protection Authority through the courts that the earliest the decision-making committee (DMC) that heard the original application could convene if it were to be reconsidered was late 2016 because of the involvement of one of its members in other planning and consent hearings.

That made it "highly improbable, if not impossible for the DMC to be reconvened within time frames that are considered reasonable", especially as the process would still entail a new hearing.

"Such an outcome has little or no advantage to TTR over that of submitting a new marine consent application," the company said in a statement.

The company is "considering its options" on lodging a completely fresh application.

Such a decision could be expected to have the dual advantage from TTR's perspective of speeding up the timetable for a hearing and requiring the appointment of a completely new DMC. However, the company has also lost of a rash of investors, had an exodus from the board, including the resignation in September of former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, and most of its full-time staff have been laid off to preserve cash.

Crossley has also announced he's returning to Australia and while he will be available as a consultant, the ceo's position will be adopted by newly appointed executive chairman, investor and expatriate West Australian-based kiwi, Alan Eggers. A skeleton staff continues to process information relevant to a fresh marine consent application.

The DMC's decision in June to decline the application surprised the company and observers of the first application for a marine mining consent under the 17 month-old system governing activity in New Zealand's EEZ. There has been intense behind-the-scenes lobbying to seek a more iterative hearing process, in which an applicant can seek to address the committee's concerns rather than blanket yes or no decision-making.

"TTR firmly believes the grounds for appeal are strong," the company's statement said.

The Environmental Defence Society's Gary Taylor said "TTR had "obviously made a call that the appeal had little or no merit and has decided to put its resources into a fresh application."

KASM spokesman Phil McCabe said in a statement "the EPA was right when it rejected this shonky application for an awful proposal that would destroy the local environment, and the company has finally made the right decision by walking away."

"The failure of TTR's $60 million proposal is actually a good thing for New Zealand's economy. It provides clarity for investors and a pivot point to realign investment capital toward more appropriate proposals that will enhance rather than detract from our international reputation."

TTR planned to vacuum some 50 million tonnes of ironsands annually into purpose-built ships for export to Asian steel mills. Despite plunging global iron ore prices, the company argued it would be competitive because the cost of mining offshore is a fraction of onshore hard-rock iron ore mining. However, the titano-magnetite from the sands is an unconventional feedstock and only suits some steel mills.

Meanwhile, the second applicant for a marine mining licence, Chatham Rock Phosphate, is a step closer to learning the fate of its application. The DMC hearing its submissions announced today it is adjourning, triggering a 20 day decision-making timetable on plans to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, hundreds of kilometres off the Canterbury coast, .

CRP managing director Chris Castle recently completed another small capital-raising to "keep the lights on over Christmas" while the company waits for a decision that had been expected next week under the committee's original timetable.