Pike River: finally letting go?

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Photo: ODT files
Surely, the time has come to move on from the tortuous and expensive attempts to excavate further into the Pike River mine.

No matter the anguish of many of the families of the 29 who died in the mine explosions and no matter their heroic battle to discover what happened and to find the remains of their loved ones, there must be limits.

In the aftermath of the tragedy 11 years ago, Prime Minister John Key said his government was committed to getting the bodies out. But National backed away for what were described as safety and practical reasons.

The issue was politicised during the 2017 election.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he would be the first to walk into the mine. Labour also promised to do everything possible to recover any remains, building on the public sympathy for the families and the failure to properly understand the causes or hold anyone criminally accountable.

The Pike River Recovery Agency was set up. The original 2017 cost estimate was $23million. This was bumped to $36million and then last year to $47million with a $4million contingency. So far $48.3million has been spent.

The Labour-led Government first said it would assess what was involved in accessing the mine’s main workings once it had got through the 2.3km entrance tunnel. In March last year, Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little said work would finish at the rockfall short of those main workings.

And in March this year a statement from the Pike River Family Reference Group, which was said to represent the families of 27 men who died, said advice was accepted that going further was too expensive and complex and that there was no more money.

Soon after, the Pike River Family Committee, separate to the reference group, rejected the statement and said three-quarters of the families wanted to self-fund a study into recovering the mine’s primary ventilation fan, 130m into the main workings.

That has been undertaken in conjunction with an international expert. The extra cost in the mine was put at another $10million and the time involved at eight weeks. Mr Little’s advice, meanwhile, is about $25million and 10 months. This would include further major health and safety clearances.

Recent confirmation the mine is to be sealed and the area handed over to the Department of Conservation has prompted a judicial review. This was filed last Friday, from a group saying they represented 23 of the families.

The review is to try to stop the sealing of the mine, and family members have said they will not tire of fighting.

It is Mr Little’s turn to be accused of broken promises. He has, though, maintained the commitment was just for the entrance tunnel and an assessment.

The Recovery Agency has claimed the re-entry was primarily about discovering forensic evidence and that important information was uncovered.

One doubts, nevertheless, whether this will be that significant, however much the agency and the minister endeavour to justify the work carried out so far.

One wonders if, all along, the chances of useful discovery were minimal given the effort and costs incurred.

Everyone cannot but feel sympathy for the families in their loss and in their frustration at the failure to discover causes and nail home accountability.

But there must be limits.

Extraordinary and expensive efforts have been made over three-plus years to re-enter the mine. It is time to seal the mine and for Doc to complete its work.

The mine will be the mausoleum for the 29. The Great Walk Paparoa Track has been constructed because of the tragedy and in consultation with the families and is an ongoing memorial.

It is time for the completion of the extension of the track, the Pike29 Memorial Track, to the mine site itself.

Comments

This issue will not go away for as long as significant numbers of people remain suspicious that something significant is being hidden. There are a number of oddities in this story that raise significant questions.

1) Why did a state owned enterprise pay tens of millions of dollars for an economically worthless hole full of corpses that was then handed over to another state owned entity?

2) Why was this mine sealed off with a ferro-concrete structure tens of meters thick that was more worthy of the Maginot Line than the steel door that would have done the job just as well?

3) Why were those responsible allowed to 'skip off'' without answering any questions after paying a sum of money - An act that has now been ruled unlawful?

4) Why did it take years and $50 million to walk two kilometres up a large, shallow gradient tunnel that is apparently largely unobstructed?

It all adds up to a lot of 'effort' that has achieved nothing.

Consequently, I do not think that I am alone in thinking that this elaborate shadow boxing is indicative of something lurking within that hole that is a good deal more shocking than a methane sensor with a plastic bag over it.

So some New Zealanders do not want the truth exposed and want to continue to allow irresponsible directors and managers of companies and overseeing authorities to make decisions that endanger lives with no fear of consequences all for the sake of profit and to save face. This will linger until the truth is known.

This is a good reminder that our politicians and CEO’s primary skill is that of faking competence. They are B grade Hollywood actors. Pike is a travesty. It has become no more than a pee pole for passing poodles to assert their dominance on.

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