Reefton considers banning coal fires

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2012
Reefton on the West Coast
FAIRFAX NZ
DIRTY AIR: Early morning in Reefton on the West Coast.

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A coal-producing West Coast town is considering a ban on coal.

West Coast Regional Council is looking at ways to improve Reefton's air quality after it breached national standards on 27 days this winter, its worst record since monitoring began in 2006.

Christchurch has breached air pollution standards on 19 days this winter and Timaru has exceeded them on 30 days.

Council chief executive Chris Ingle said yesterday a discussion on Reefton's dirty air was held last week.

The major issues were residents' right to keep their homes warm, the need to protect health by meeting national air quality standards and ways to assist people to afford cleaner heating.

The council planned to hold a public meeting in a few months, once it worked out possibly ways to cut pollution.

However, Ingle said the amount of coal and wood burned in the township needed to be reduced.

"The volumes of smoke being generated are too great. You can't just put extractor fans above Reefton."

He said the council was "about to find out" how controversial a coal ban would prove but it was determined to address the problem.

"Some people have a very deep affinity to the black stuff."

The Government threatened to sack regional councillors and to replace them with commissioners if they failed to sort out air pollution in their regions, which gave added incentive, Ingle said.

Last year the township had only seven high-pollution days.

Long-time resident Tony Fortune, who has been Reefton's official weather recorder for the past 49 years, said the community feared a coal ban.

"People are talking about it and a lot of people are quite worried.

People could learn to burn coal and wood more efficiently to ease the problem "but I'd hate to see fires go".

He said many in the community were poor, and coal and wood were the cheapest forms of heating.

Reefton Area School principal Wayne Wright said the board was watching "nervously" after recently spending $120,000 to link its coal-fired burner to the school pool's heating system.

Reefton exceeded environmental standards on air pollution more than 10 times every year since 2006 when constant monitoring began.

Coal has been mined around Reefton since its discovery in 1869, with several mines still operating close to the township.

The West Coast produces more than half New Zealand's coal.

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