Buller businesses bite back in defence of mining

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

Struggling Buller businesses are about to launch a campaign in defence of mining.

About 150 people - including some from Greymouth - crammed into a Westport Motor Hotel lounge last night for an urgent meeting on the future of Buller businesses.

They've have been hit hard by Solid Energy job losses and are frustrated continuing conservationist appeals have delayed Bathurst Resources' proposed Denniston Escarpment Mine.

Last night's meeting agreed "greenie bashing" would achieve nothing. The business representatives decided to form a lobby group to hammer home mining's importance to the West Coast and New Zealand.

The group will also highlight mining's environmental achievements.

The meeting was addressed by three mining professionals Anthony Black, Guy Boaz and Minerals West Coast manager Peter O'Sullivan.

Mr Black said his company, Geotech, used to employ 25 men at Stockton opencast mine. It now employed one there.

"We're feeling pretty bloody vulnerable about the latest Forest & Bird objection to the (proposed Bathurst mine) process."

However, Mr Black said New Zealand was a democracy. Forest & Bird was legally entitled to challenge the Bathurst plans.

It would be too simplistic just to focus on Bathurst. The West Coast was in danger of losing its prime coal business because of the collapse of world coal prices and the high New Zealand dollar.

Westport was facing an outflow of people and a decrease in wages, Mr Black said. It should be lobbying the Government to say it wanted coal mined efficiently. It did not want competition between Bathurst and Solid Energy.

The rest of the Coast should be part of the campaign.

"Greenie bashing won't do it for us. Thinking we are going to interfere in the legal process won't do it for us," Mr Black said.

Mr Boaz agreed Forest & Bird had filed legitimate appeals. He said Buller people could not change the Resource Management Act. However, they could make clear how Buller and the West Coast were being affected.

They needed a lobby group to counter organisations such as Forest & Bird.

Mr O'Sullivan said if Denniston could not be mined, the whole West Coast would suffer. "This sort of thing just scares off international investors and without investors we are not doing anything."

Only Forest & Bird could withdraw its appeals against Bathurst. Many of its members were well-meaning, but did not understand the impact of their actions, Mr O'Sullivan said. They seemed to believe the West Coast was being run by multinational mining companies.

Coasters needed to tell Forest & Bird "thank you for your help to this point, we don't need it any more".

Only 14 square kilometres of more than 32,000 square kilometres of land on the West Coast was used for mining, Mr O'Sullivan said.

The audience spent about an hour throwing up ideas. Suggestions included writing letters to the editor, social media campaigns, and obtaining television coverage.

One person suggested "infiltrating" Forest & Bird by becoming members.

A further meeting will be held in Westport next Monday at a larger venue to firm up the lobby group and hammer out its plans.

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