Coal ban looms over West Coast town

A coal ban still looms over a West Coast coal-producing town trying to cut its air pollution, but other options will be trialled first.

About 50 Reefton residents attended a public meeting on Monday night on pollution problems.

The West Coast Regional Council held the meeting because the town breached national standards on 27 days last winter - its highest figure since monitoring began in 2006 and partly blamed on getting its biggest snow dump in about 50 years.

Some residents voiced fears at the meeting over a possible coal ban, and others refused to attend because they believed it was a foregone conclusion.

''It's a pretty hot issue up there,'' council planning and environment manager Michael Meehan said yesterday.

The Reefton Airshed Committee, a mix of residents and local authority and iwi representatives, was established at the meeting and has a year to develop ways to improve the town's air quality to meet tough national standards, which would be introduced in 2016.

Committee member Bert Waghorn said the committee would consider a range of options to introduce next winter, including cleaner ways to burn coal and alternative heating methods.

The community opposed a ban on coal but many people recognised the need to fix air pollution problems, said Waghorn, a retired coalminer who worked underground for 35 years.

''We've got one of the highest prices around New Zealand for power. Coal is on our backdoor step and it's still the cheapest heating option around,'' he said.

''If it's killing people, perhaps we have to take a harder approach.''

A study discussed at Monday's meeting showed Reefton residents' respiratory health last winter was no worse than in other towns around New Zealand.

The committee asked the council to approach the Government to get special zoning for the town because its topography made it difficult to meet pollution standards.

By September 2016, areas could breach maximum air-quality levels up to three times a year, dropping to once a year by September 2020.

The Press