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Zella Downing fears the Upper Clutha community is “fighting a ghost” tackling Tarras airport development plans by Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL).

Ms Downing is the spokeswoman for the new Stop Central Otago Airport group.

About 300 people have signed up to its website, released two weeks ago.

Sustainable Tarras also opposes the airport. The two groups are working together.

Ms Downing said she used the word “ghost” because CIAL put its proposal together behind the scenes and had big business backing that could be hard to fight, and the Government had not entered the debate.

“It is amazing that it is being left to a business .. and that the Government is not stepping in and adding its voice,” she said.

CIAL is a Christchurch City Council-controlled company; the Government is a 25% shareholder.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson would not be drawn on his opinion in a May Otago Daily Times interview.

Ms Downing said Stop Central Otago Airport was an informal group with no meeting plans yet.

The website asks people signing for newsletters to indicate support or opposition to the airport; Ms Downing did not have information about those numbers but said she would provide it.

Other members did not want to be identified, she said.

“It’s not about us .. As with many grassroots organisations, it is quite diverse. Everyone is opposed but everybody has different views as to the most important reason why it [the airport] is not suitable,” she said.

The ODT reported last week that CIAL has information coming out in August about how the Tarras site stacks up.

Ms Downing did not yet know if or how the group would respond.

“They can do that [research] but they are still not addressing the suitability of having another airport in a place where there is no existing infrastructure for such a site,” she said.

CIAL had missed the main point: New Zealand already had five international airports, three in the South Island, and did not need another.

The airport was “a fairly crazy plan”, a for-profit business venture, and did not address impacts of climate change and over-tourism, she said.

Ms Downing was raised in Colorado, the United States, where she saw the rise of big roads, commuter towns and low-skilled labour caused by over-tourism and development.

In her town, residents would hold pancake breakfasts in the street and enjoy “ping pong drops” from the sky, until a four lane highway put a stop to that.

Ms Downing moved to Riversdale, Southland, in the 980s to farm beef and sheep with her former husband.

She watched locals divide over the unsuccessful Five Forks airport proposal near Lumsden.

Some wanted growth, jobs, and export opportunities. Others worried about low-paid jobs and lack of infrastructure.

Looking at Colorado, it felt right to get involved.

“You can’t put something that big in a place where nothing exists and not think about the flow-on effects. Someone has got to stand up and say, what about the flow-on effects.”