Deidre Mussen at Stuff reports:
John Key wrote to Solid Energy before Christmas saying a new expert panel was being set up to advise the Government on the feasibility of body recovery at the underground West Coast mine.
The men died after an explosion at the mine in November 2010.
Key had reiterated to Pike families at a meeting in Greymouth last month the Government was unlikely to fund body recovery because his experts said it was too dangerous and expensive.
However, he admitted the families were frustrated by his stance because their experts were more optimistic about it.
As a result, a panel of mining experts from diverse backgrounds, including from Solid Energy, Mines Rescue Trust, Pike families and the Government’s High Hazards Unit, would be brought together to try to get a consensus on whether it was possible plus its risks and costs.
Key wrote that he was “very keen for the families to have closure one way or another as soon as reasonably possible”.
He also confirmed the Government would pay for all out-of-pocket costs to explore the mine’s 2.3 kilometre tunnel, where some bodies might remain, if a viable plan was developed that the Government’s High Hazards Unit backed.
It included paying for the families’ international mining experts to return to New Zealand to meet other experts to develop a tunnel exploration plan.
Pike families were “ecstatic” with the prime minister’s offer.
“Certainly it’s a turnaround in that he is finally listening to us instead of sticking to his expert’s advice,” said Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael, 23, in the fatal explosion.
I think the issue has been different experts have said different things. Paying to get them all together in one room, and seeing if they can agree on what can be safely done is a good thing.
Also useful to clarify that costs will be met by the Government in any tunnel exploration, even if not a full reclamation.