Mayor tells of Pike River's legacy

By Yvonne Tahana

'I feel as though I've been beaten by a mob' says Coast leader as he counts the cost of his region's setbacks.

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn ponders a bleak future. Photo / APN
Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn ponders a bleak future. Photo / APN

The mayor who fronted up after the Pike River tragedy says he feels like he's been "beaten by a mob" and has never felt more defeated as the coal-mining industry and tourism collapses around him.

In a frank interview with the Herald in today's 12 Questions column, before the two-year anniversary of the explosion that claimed 29 lives, Grey District Council Mayor Tony Kokshoorn describes what he says has been a "lousy run" for West Coasters.

"I spent 10 years lobbying for hydro schemes and coal mining. In two years the whole lot seems to have unravelled. The Christchurch earthquakes and the Spring Creek mine - everything. Tourism has collapsed.

"There was the TranzAlpine story last week - that iconic rail journey that has brought so much from Christchurch to the Coast might shut.

"I feel as though I've been beaten by a mob. It's one thing to take a slap.

But this is like being on the ground and someone keeps putting the boot in. I'm going through a bad time. But I'm the eternal optimist. It's like that Tina Turner song - you get knocked down but you get back up."

To a man, the community wanted to return to mining, he said.

Former Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall will defend 12 charges, laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, alleging that he failed to keep the miners safe.

Mr Kokshoorn said: "Peter is not a bad person, but he was the boss. He now has to face the lonely road ahead. Twenty-nine people died on his watch."

The straight-talking mayor reiterates his criticism of police for taking over a rescue operation "they knew nothing about".

But, equally, Mr Kokshoorn wishes he had done more to advocate for search and rescue experts on the ground who, he believes, were denied the opportunity to do their jobs.

A spokesman for the police said it was not appropriate to comment before the commission's findings were released.

That is set for next week.

Mr Kokshoorn said commemorations marking the two-year anniversary would be "low key".

"The families have said they want it to be as private as possible. They'll take a bus up to the mine and just be with their thoughts.

"My wife, Lynne, and I will go to the memorial at Blackball and reflect. It's two years on, but it's still so raw, it's entrenched."

- NZ Herald

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