Pike River families 'gutted' over delays

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 17:10 21/08/2014
BERNIE MONK
KIRK HARGREAVES/The Press
GUTTED: Spokesman Bernie Monk called the decision to delay an 'absolute embarrassment to New Zealand'.

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Pike River families are ''absolutely gutted'' to find out that plans to re-enter the coal mine where 29 men died had been delayed further.

A series of explosions in the underground coal mine in November 2010 killed 29 miners.

Earlier today spokesman for many of the families Bernie Monk thought Solid Energy would announce a decision whether to go ahead with the re-entry next week.

But the state-owned company said in a statement it would not be considering the re-entry project at this month's board meeting, despite ''expectation in the community'' that it would.

The board's health and safety committee met this month to consider the outcomes of risk assessment work on the remaining stages of the project. The company said further matters in relation to the potentially fatal risks had arisen and needed to be assessed.

Monk said the decision to delay was an ''absolute embarrassment to New Zealand''.

The families would ''sit back and evaluate the reasons'' and plan a strategy to continue pushing for re-entry.

''We're more determined than ever,'' he said.

Carol Rose, whose son Stuart Mudge died in the mine, said if Solid Energy would not go ahead with the re-entry, ''they should get out of the way so we can get people in who can''.

Monk said if Solid Energy ''don't want to do it, let them come out and say that''.

Previously Monk has said re-entry was aimed for the end of April, then mid-June.

Nearly a year after the Government fronted $7.3 million for the re-entry plan the families still do not know whether it will go ahead.

Last September the Government announced it would fund a plan to re-enter the mine and explore 2.3 kilometres of main tunnel leading up to the rockfall.

The first three stages of the project had been completed, which involved plugging the main ventilation shaft using material flown in by helicopter, drilling new boreholes and checking the area with a camera.

The next four stages - plugging the tunnel with cement foam, pumping in inert nitrogen, ventilating the tunnel with fresh air and re-entering - would not proceed until Solid Energy's board had given the go-ahead which was subject to risk assessment.

Health and safety concerns had so far delayed the re-entry plans.Solid Energy bought the assets of Pike River Coal in 2012 but had no connection with the mine when 29 miners were killed in an explosion on November 19, 2010. Two men survived the blast.

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