The closure of the Roa underground coal mine, the last on the West Coast, has left Coasters downcast but determined to build on existing strengths and diversify their economy, according to one of the region’s public figures, Tony Kokshoorn. By NEIL RITCHIE.
The closure of the Roa underground operations certainly does not mean the end of utilising mineral resources on the Coast as there is still some opencast mining happening at Roa, along with others such as Bathurst Resources and its Buller Project, as well as active minerals exploitation, with opportunities for growth in both of these sectors.
“For 150 years our economy has been sustained by coal mining … and last decade coal was still king on the West Coast. Now there’s very little … but we are a resilient bunch and will continue diversifying our economy, tourism and the like,” says Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn.
“So it’s the end of an era for underground coal mining on the Coast … and for the country as Roa was the last remaining operating underground coal mine in New Zealand.
“But it’s not the death of the extractives industries on the Coast as there is still a small amount of opencast mining and some active minerals exploitation, as well as future opportunities for West Coasters from such things as modern opencast mining of high grade coking coal and metallurgical coal, primarily for export when coal prices improve, to activated carbon prospects, garnet, et cetera.
“The minerals are still there, waiting to be extracted,” adds the man who has lived all his 61 years on the Coast and is one of the most well known advocates for the region.
Over 600 jobs have been lost in the coal industry during the past five years, including about 65 when Solid Energy closed its Huntly underground mine last year and now 20 more jobs due to Roa Mining Company closing its underground mine. Some West Coast coal miners have left the minerals sector altogether, although others have found work in gold mining and other extractive industries.
And Kokshoorn is welcoming news of another possible opencast mine on the Coast, following Rangitira Developments’ recent applications to the Department of Conservation and Buller District Council for land access agreements to the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area and to a never used water conservation reserve administered by the council.
Rangitira Developments holds a mining permit covering some 860 hectares around Te Kuha, about 12 kilometres from Westport, and aims to develop an opencast mine that could mean almost $26 million per year for the West Coast economy and create about 60 jobs.
The Te Kuha partnership, which comprises the Stevenson Group and Wi Pere Holdings, owns Rangitira Developments which has already done detailed drilling programmes that show there is about 4.4 million tonnes of coal in two seams, the Brunner and Paparoa.
If the new mine goes ahead then Rangitira Developments’ preference is to build an activated carbon plant in the Buller district. Otherwise it could rail the high quality coal to Lyttelton for export, “for a myriad of industrial uses”, or possibly to Westport for exporting via Port Taranaki, New Plymouth, says Stevenson Mining chief executive Mike Coleman.
Rangitira Developments hopes to file resource consent applications before mid-2016 and to open an office in Westport. It is estimated the mine will have an economic life of 16 years or so and that there will be 10 years of land rehabilitation.
“Initial public reaction to our proposal has been, by and large, very positive,” says Coleman.
“And we need employment on the Coast so this is good news,” Kokshoorn concludes.