Peter Owens looks at a scheme to woo West Coasters from coal with precious metals.
The Coalition Government’s decision to lend what is a foreign company, $10 million to mine garnet on the West Coast (a loan from the Provincial Growth Fund) has been widely interpreted as another ploy to woo the West Coasters away from the mining of fossil fuels. That is not likely to happen.
Ironically, the West Coast was the birthplace of the modern Labour Party in this country, and even the most rabid labourite on the coast (and they still exist) is unlikely to support a total ban on mining.
While containing some of the most productive farming land in this country, the economy of the West Coast is firmly based on mining. In the 19th and early 20th century it was gold mining, and now it is top quality coal, and the global demand for good coking coals is still growing, regardless of what politics is driven from the capital.
It is worth remembering that the previous Helen Clark-led Government donated the Westland District Council a multi-million dollar package to set up industries to train and employ people made redundant by the closing down of the forestry industry on Crown lands along the coast. Sadly, this was frittered away on unsustainable schemes.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says the Ruatapu garnet project will create ‘sustainable jobs’ and local wealth, while meeting the region’s goal of diversifying its economy.
“Up to 50 permanent, high-paying jobs will be established through the Ruatapu garnet project, as well as boosting support industries like transport and trades in the region,” he says.
Operator Barton New Zealand (BNZL) mine has support throughout the region, including councils, and is backed by American firm Barton Mines, which has 140 years’ experience in garnet mining. The Kiwi company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States’ parent company.
“West Coasters know a thing or two about mining and this project will make the most of the range of mining skills and infrastructure that already exists in the region,” claims Jones.
“After several years exploring the site, BNZL says the garnet resource here is world class and this mine represents the beginnings of a new industry for the West Coast.”
Alluvial garnet is mainly used as an industrial abrasive, such as water jet cutting or in products like sandpaper. The mineral-bearing sand will be collected using a front-loader digging operation, and the garnet will be separated with machinery based at the Ruatapu site. The project will be developed on privately-owned land in Ruatapu, near Hokitika.
Meantime, coal remains an important fuel for domestic industries and, to a lesser extent, in electricity generation.
Coal even contributes directly to our global competitiveness in the agricultural sector. In this regard giant dairy processor, Fonterra has revealed a study carried out on its Edendale plant in Southland, demonstrated that converting from coal to electricity would require capital investment of $160 million and annual operating costs would increase by at least 50 percent.