Pike River protest ends with threats of arrest as mine sealing confirmed to go ahead video

RNZ MORNING REPORT

"It all just fell on deaf ears" - Sonya Rockhouse, Pike River victim mother.

The Pike River road blockade has ended after a heated meeting with a Government minister and threats of arrest. 

Family members of 29 men who died in the West Coast disaster in November 2010 occupied the mine's access road on November 12. 

They demanded the Government and Solid Energy agree to enter and search the drift – a 2.5-kilometre tunnel leading into the mine – before it was sealed with a 20-metre thick concrete wall. 

Pike River Mine Families spokesman Bernie Monk is frustrated authorities won't reenter the mine.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

Pike River Mine Families spokesman Bernie Monk is frustrated authorities won't reenter the mine.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said work to permanently seal the mine would be deferred for a week.

He met families on Wednesday night and told them a safe reentry was not possible. 

READ MORE:
Pike river protest temporarily paused after earthquake
​* Pike River father Bernie Monk says mine is safe for reentry
Full coverage: Pike River mine disaster
Pike River mine sits idle five years on
Pike River mine closure delayed as families continue road block protest

Pike River mine protesters Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse camped on the access road to the mine last weekend.
SUPPLIED

Pike River mine protesters Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse camped on the access road to the mine last weekend.

Protest organisers Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse said the meeting was "very heated". 

"We have sadly come to the decision that we will stop our occupation at the Pike River gates due to us being told that if we impede Solid Energy's efforts to get through the gates to seal the mine we will be arrested," they said in a statement.

They said it was ironic that if they continued the protest Solid Energy would be in breach of health and safety regulations that were created as a result of the Pike River disaster.

The portal to the Pike River Mine.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

The portal to the Pike River Mine.

Osborne, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, said ending the protest was a hard decision.

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Although she had a huge battle ahead with her health, she would continue to fight for justice and accountability for the deaths of the 29 men. 

Rockhouse, whose son Ben died in the mine, said details about the seal were leaked to family members.

The seal would consist of a stainless steel wall sprayed with concrete 50m into the drift. The mine shaft would be filled with concrete to a thickness of at least 20m. 

"Rather than send Ministers to threaten us with arrest, John Key should be calling a halt to the sealing process and talking to us about reentry," she said.

"Promises were made by the Prime Minister and they haven't been kept. Anyone who loses family like this deserves justice and closure."

RNZ MORNING REPORT

Nick Smith says he tried to be as conciliatory and compassionate as possible when he met the Pike River families.

Pike River Families Group spokesman Bernie Monk said he was frustrated by the meeting with Smith. 

He had received reports, from sources close to the decommissioning work, that it was possible to ventilate the drift and create a 24-hour window to safely search for remains. 

"I don't accept what Minister Smith is saying. But where else can I go? Once that seal goes in, the likelihood of us ever reentering the mine is minimal." 

International experts and Mines Rescue agreed it was possible to ventilate and safely enter the drift, he said.

Smith said Solid Energy had completed the first phase of work for the permanent seal.

"Solid Energy has a legal obligation to comply with an improvement notice issued by the High Hazards Unit of WorkSafe New Zealand to complete a 'Type C' seal by the end of November," he said. 

The site needed to be made safe so it could be returned to the Department of Conservation for inclusion in the Paparoa National Park. 

"There's no new information which changes Solid Energy's view that safe re-entry of the mine is not possible," he said. 

"I remain doubtful of claims that the mine can be safely re-entered. The mine is full of methane and is likely to have residual heat sources capable of triggering an explosion if there was a source of oxygen. There is the added risk of rock falls."

The Government had spent more than $5 million trying to find a safe way of re-entering the mine.

"I do appreciate the huge loss families have faced with the loss of loved ones at Pike, and the added pain of not being able to recover their men. However, you cannot justify putting further lives at risk," Smith said.

A memorial service to mark the sixth anniversary of the disaster would be held at 3.44pm at the mine portal on Saturday, followed by a commemoration at the Blackball Hilton. 

 - Stuff

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