Denniston mining delayed indefinitely

MARTA STEEMAN AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 08:36 26/02/2014

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Westport is "devastated" the start of mining on the Denniston plateau will be delayed indefinitely, the West Coast town's mayor says.

Bathurst announced that with the international price of coal at US$120 a tonne - the lowest in nine years - mining at Escarpment would be unprofitable.

It said 29 jobs - 17 in Westport - would be cut to save about $3 million a year..

Buller District Mayor Garry Howard said it was devastating for the community and the company, and was a "bitter pill to swallow".

"However, we understand the position that the company has found itself in and accept that the long-term future is better served by this delay," he said.

Howard took a swipe at environmental activists whose opposition to the mine and court challenges took two years to overcome.

"It is simply criminal to see a well-intentioned regulatory process abused and manipulated by out-of-town extreme elements intent on frustrating legitimate and reasonable developments."

The money Bathurst had spent on court cases could have been invested in infrastructure for the mine, he said.

Some local companies had been gearing up for the start of mining at Escarpment and the community was anxious about other job prospects.

Howard expected many of the 17 Bathurst employees to leave the town to look for other jobs.

One of the town's large retailers, Pat Bradley, of Bradley Furniture, said 400 jobs in the Stockton Mine workforce had already been lost with Solid Energy's cuts in the past two years and this additional 17 was disappointing.

"Everybody has got high hopes for Bathurst. Mining jobs are good jobs, they are well-paid jobs. Businesses like mine rely on discretional spending," he said.

The town noticed the loss of the mining workforce to other regions such as Canterbury where some had gone to work in the rebuild.

Bathurst will continue to prepare the Escarpment site for mining when the price of coal recovers but that could take several months.

Bathurst managing director Hamish Bohannan said resuming mining was a "no brainer" if the international coal price recovered to more than US$150, but if it was only at US$130 the company would wait for it to rise further.

Market forecasters were saying the low prices would last "a few months at least", he said.

Environmental groups were concerned Bathurst wanted to push ahead with preparatory work when there was no guarantee mining would follow.

"Don't go in there and actually destroy the place if there's nothing coming from it - in that case there's no winners," Forest and Bird spokeswoman Debs Martin said.

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Forest and Bird had long called for the West Coast to look at sustainable industries for jobs "not something that relies on destructive extraction", she said.

Coal Action Network spokeswoman Cindy Baxter said she was concerned that preparing for mining meant getting rid of the overburden - the material above the coal seam - "which is the whole beauty of the plateau".

She believed Bathurst was being overly optimistic about coal prices.

- The Press

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