Parliament select committee to investigate Pike River reentry
A parliamentary select committee will consider stopping Solid Energy sealing the Pike River mine.
Author Dame Fiona Kidman, who joined the families' protest on the West Coast, backed an online petition requesting that Solid Energy be stopped from sealing the Pike River Mine, and that the remains of the 29 men be brought home if humanly possible.
The petition, signed by 511 people, was presented to Parliament by Labour's West Coast MP Damian O'Connor on December 13. It will be heard by the Commerce Committee on February 16.
Kidman said she was "absolutely delighted". The petition was started by Auckland woman Alexandra Dumistrecu.
"It was quite a small petition with more than 500 signatures collected in a short time so I hadn't imagined it would have the impact it has had. I have been asked to prepare a brief to support the petition and will speak to the committee. I have a few things to say to them," she said.
"I just hope that Solid Energy will stop work until then so the Pike River families can stop protesting over Christmas.
O'Connor said Solid Energy would also be speaking to the committee on the same day.
"The committee has decided it should hear from petitioners. The hearing will only be for 15 minutes but Fiona Kidman can still ... include information from mines rescue experts and the families. The experts might be able to speak to the committee through video link to answer any questions," he said.
The committee could decide to have a further hearing.
O'Connor also hoped Solid Energy would stop work on sealing the mine until the committee hearing.
"If Solid Energy don't stop work it would be unconventional and in my view the height of arrogance to dismiss an inquiry of a parliamentary select committee that might result in the mine not being sealed."
Pike River father Bernie Monk, who has been leading the protest against sealing the mine, said he hoped Solid Energy would halt work until it was heard.
The families' lawyers were still working through the legality of the announcement by Solid Energy that it had legal right to access the mine from Logburn Rd, he said.
"I'm not too worried about it because Allied Concrete and other contractors and suppliers on the West Coast have refused to work on sealing the mine. So they'll find it very difficult to continue," he said.
"We will be leaving the gates up but even if we have to take them down we will be monitoring the road 24 hours a day. They will still have to drive over our 29 crosses on the road," he said.
The families have protested the sealing of the mine since November 12, and took occupation of a small privately-owned section of the road after landowner permission.
A Solid Energy statement said on Saturday it was a "misunderstanding" and the company had always had right to access the mine.
Solid Energy is sealing the mine with concrete to hand it over to the Department of Conservation. It will become part of the Paparoa National Park and become a memorial along the new Pike River memorial Great Walk.
The families want the mine's entry tunnel to be explored before the mine is sealed. They have presented a new entry plan written by international experts which says it can be done safely. The Government, which owns Solid Energy, has refused entry to the methane-filled mine because of the risks of explosion and rockfall.
The families went to Wellington to lobby the Government on December 12 but Prime Minister Bill English said he was too busy to meet them.
English's office had since been in touch with Monk to arrange a meeting.
"They wanted to do it on Monday but we couldn't accept that because not everybody was available. I've given a date to his office for a meeting and I want to fly our experts out from the UK to attend. We're not just talking through our heads we are prepared to front up with our experts," Monk said.