Another exodus of young men to Australia. Ghost towns. A feeling they've been kicked in the guts once too often.
Up and down the West Coast, the mood was as black as the famous coal that bonds the region following Solid Energy's announcement on Wednesday it was suspending its Spring Creek operation, about 15km from Greymouth, as it looked to cut costs in the face of an anticipated $200 million drop in annual revenue.
The West Coast has already been hit hard by a tourism downturn, resulting from the high dollar and massive damage to Christchurch's infrastructure following last year's earthquake.
As miners wait to hear whether they will have a job, Buck Mollett - owner of Runanga Butchery, the sole remaining independent butchery on the West Coast - warned that Spring Creek's closure could turn his part of the Coast into a "ghost town".
"Mining is what holds the West Coast together . . . there is nothing much else here really," Mollett said.
"It is pretty hard for a real small town like this."
He said times were already tough on the Coast and the closure of the mine would double as a death knell for other businesses.
"Everyone is struggling. There are businesses shutting down, cafes and restaurants. There are a lot of people without jobs and it is going to get only worse.
"It is going to be a chain reaction, it works right the way through."
Spring Creek employs 250 staff - including miners and office staff - and 130 contractors.
Its miners are paid on average $90,000; double the average West Coast salary. The mine also contributes $37m in wages and services to the Greymouth economy.
Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder said on Wednesday the Spring Creek workforce would be suspended on full pay while a review was carried out.
Its possible demise was met with anger throughout the West Coast.
That mood was summed up in the Runanga Workingmen's Club on Thursday, when locals vented their frustrations.
Graham Mulcay, 68, from Kumara, simply described Solid Energy's Spring Creek announcement as "shit".
"Coal mining is the major thing over here. What are all these fellas going to do?," he said.
"Why are they shutting it? Because the price of coal dropped, they reckon. Well it might have dropped but it will go back up again."
Joe Hatcher, 69, said Solid Energy's stance on mining would lead to a further defection of young men and women to mining jobs in Australia.
"I've got a lot of mates who work in that mine. I feel for them . . . if you've got a mortgage on your home you are stuffed. They will go to Australia. There's a lot gone now already."
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said he was "sickened" by Solid Energy's stance.
The province had been hammered over the past two years, and "mothballing" Spring Creek would create massive problems for the West Coast, he said.
"We had had a severe kick in the guts from Pike River. But at the end of the day we still had Solid Energy."
Following the Pike River tragedy - when 29 miners and contractors died - some of the mine's workforce shifted across the Tasman for jobs paying up to $130,000 a year.
Others sought employment at Spring Creek, on a lower wage because of the security Solid Energy offered with its Spring Creek and proposed Liverpool developments.
"They stayed loyal to them on that basis that there was security there," the mayor said.
"Now [Solid Energy] repays that loyalty with a meeting basically telling them, ‘thanks for your loyalty but you could basically be getting a redundancy letter next week'.
"That is what sickens me."
Two months before Wednesday's announcement, Kokshoorn attended a meeting in Greymouth where Elder and Solid Energy chairman John Palmer spoke of the SOE's plans for the Coast.
Kokshoorn said the pair spoke of the recession, but said Spring Creek was going ahead, so too would Liverpool, and added the SOE was now keen to find more coal seams on the West Coast.
"You couldn't paint a brighter picture than that. Then within two months of that meeting they dropped the bombshell on us."
Kokshoorn said Solid Energy had already spent about $70m on its estimated $140m Spring Creek development.
On Thursday he sent strongly-worded letters to Prime Minister John Key, Finance Minister Bill English, Elder and Palmer calling for a review of Solid Energy's decision.
"You have made an investment, put all that money into it . . . sure the world's market for coal has turned down but it is cyclical. What I am saying to the prime minister and Bill English is, ‘you are the owner of Solid Energy. Rather than let them slash and burn, you need to say . . . there is a cashflow problem but we need to extend the lines of credit for Solid Energy to enable them to finish this development and retain a workforce which is good for New Zealand, rather than lifting the GDP of Australia'."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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