More than 1000 march to save Spring Creek Mine

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 15:40 04/09/2012

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Hundreds of people have staged Greymouth's biggest protest in more than a decade to plead with Solid Energy and the Government to save Spring Creek Mine.

More than 1000 people crowded the streets of the West Coast township today chanting ''Save our mine, save our town'' and waving banners highlighting fears of its threatened closure.

Last Wednesday, the state-owned enterprise suspended operations at the underground coalmine just north of Greymouth while it reviewed its future viability.

The same day, it also announced a swath of redundancies at its Huntly East underground mine in the Waikato and in its Christchurch head office.

The sudden move shocked Spring Creek's 200 employees, 50-60 contractors and the whole town, prompting the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union to organise the March for Work protest.

Emotive speeches were held afterwards at the town clock in the centre of town.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn called for the community to keep lobbying Solid Energy, the coast's three members of parliament and the Government while a decision on its future was yet finalised.

''We have got a window of opportunity for a couple of weeks.''

He said Solid Energy's board had over-reacted to an international downturn in coal prices and called for the Government to step in to fund the $70 million shortfall until the coal market improved.

''This is not the miners' fault. Coal mining on the coast has a bright future.''

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said Solid Energy's new chairman, Mark Ford, planned to meet his board today and called for him to make swift changes to ensure Spring Creek's future was safe.

''Here is your opportunity to show some true leadership.''

Solid Energy's board and senior management ''had let their eye off the ball'' in letting the mine face an uncertain future, he said.

O'Connor read from an internal Solid Energy document, which highlighted the state-owned enterprise's push to prepare it for potential listing in the next one to three years under proposed state asset sales.

''This is about cutting costs to make it look more rosy for potential investors,'' he said.

Spokesman for most Pike River families, Bernie Monk, told the crowd to lobby the West Coast's three MPs to tell the Government to save Spring Creek.

''If they can't do it, let us go up there and do it for them.''

West Coast-based National MP Chris Auchinvole vowed to advocate to Prime Minister John Key and government to save the mine, congratulating the organisers for proactively protesting before a decision was made.

The mine's site convenor, Trevor Bolderson, spoke of the anguish workers faced in waiting to find out if the mine would close.

''It's like waiting to be bloody hung.''

Only three weeks earlier, a new intake of workers had started at the mine.

Some had left great jobs in anticipation of a promised bright future at Spring Creek, only to be left in the lurch, he said.

Bolderson said Spring Creek's problems did not warrant its closure and its workers wanted to return to the coalface.

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''We are not seeking divine intervention, we're seeking Government intervention.''

- The Press

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