Westport devastated by coal move

Westport is ‘‘devastated’’ by Bathurst’s announcement it will delay indefinitely the start of mining at its Escarpment mine.

The coalminer announced that, with the international price of coal at US$120 (NZ$144) a tonne, the lowest in nine years, mining Escarpment would be unprofitable.

Its share price plummeted 6thcents to  10c a share.

It also announced it would  make 29 jobs, 17 in Westport, redundant to save about $3 million a year. The positions are largely in corporate support and administration involved with consenting.

‘‘Today’s news, that Bathurst will not be proceeding to open its Escarpment mine on the Denniston Plateau as planned, is devatating for the  company and the Buller community,’’ Buller Mayor Garry Howard said. ‘‘However we understand the position that the company has found itself in and accept that the long-term future is better served by this delay.

‘‘It is a bitter pill to swallow.’’

He took a swipe at environmental activists whose opposition and relentless court challenges took two years to overcome.

‘‘It is simply criminal to see a well-intentioned regulatory process abused and manipulated by out-of-town extreme elements intent on frustrating legitimate and reasonable developments.’’

What  Bathurst spent on court cases could have been invested in mine  infrastructure,  he said.

Some local  firms  had been gearing up for the start of mining at Escarpment and the community was anxious about other job prospects.  He expected many of the 17 Bathurst  staff  to leave town to look for other jobs. 

One of the town’s large retailers, Pat Bradley of Bradley Furniture, said 400 jobs in the Stockton Mine workforce had already been lost with Solid Energy’s cuts in the past two years and this additional 17 was disappointing.

‘‘Everybody has got high hopes for Bathurst. Mining jobs are good jobs, they are well-paid jobs. Businesses like mine rely on discretionary spending,’’  he  said.

The town noticed the loss of the mining workforce to other regions such as Canterbury where some had gone to work in the rebuild. 

‘‘We want these jobs to go ahead. It just makes us nervous that the mine can’t get off the ground at the moment.’’

Bathurst, an Australian firm, would have been starting to recruit up to 100 staff  this year to begin coal production,  if the coal price was  substantially higher.

It will continue to prepare the Escarpment site for mining for when the price does recover Bathurst managing director Hamish Bohannan said that, if the international coal price rose  to more than US$150, starting the operation would be a ‘‘no brainer’’ – but not at US$130.  

The United States was dumping surplus coal on the international market because  it  had big supplies of gas after   a lot of fracking. 

Bohannan said market forecasters were saying the low prices would last ‘‘a few months at least’’. 

BusinessDay