So, another mine is coming to the end of its working life on the West Coast.
No mine is ever permanent. They get built and provided the owner/operator does not have a major accident (Pike River) or there be a major economic slowdown (like right now)in the raw mineral sectors, they last as long as it takes to get the economically recoverable raw mineral being extracted, out of the ground.
But in a province where mines and the industry built up around them have played such an integral part of the economy, the death of so many mines is like death by a thousand cuts. A few people lost here and a few lost there. Small numbers most of the time, occasionally overshadowed by the loss of jobs that go with major redundancies at firms like Solid Energy. Over time the losses accumulate not just in the number of people being made redundant but also the loss of skills, knowledge and experience, which might have taken decades to get to the stage it was at when lost.
Given that the West Coast’s only other major industries in the past have been logging and tourism, this is not a minor issue. The native logging was brought to an end by the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark in the early part of last decade, and the loss of yet more jobs with no obvious remedies on the horizon must be of significant concern to the West Coast.
Kiwi Rail’s wellbeing on the West Coast is a major concern. Mining and logging were major users of the railway to transport raw product out to Lyttelton for shipment to overseas markets. With few logs on the move and fewer bucket loads of processed coal coming down from the mines, how much longer can Kiwi Rail keep the Otira tunnel and associated line open? Will tourism via Arthurs Pass be enough, and what else could be transported by train? Given National’s preference for roads over rail the answers do not look promising.
I sympathize with West Coasters. It is an amazing province as natural beauty and tourism opportunities go. The people are awesome and laid back, but is this enough to stop the long term economic decline of New Zealand’s least populated province?