Closure will not kill off our town

Employees of Blair Athol Mine celebrating the mine’s 25 year anniversary.
Employees of Blair Athol Mine celebrating the mine’s 25 year anniversary.

CONFIRMATION Rio Tinto's Blair Athol mine will be closed by December has been met with little surprise by the Clermont community.

Concern has instead turned to the future of 140 workers after the announcement 30 employees will remain onsite to man the coal preparation and handling plant, while others complete the company's retrenchment and redeployment program.

But fears the mine's closure would have a disastrous social and economic impact on residents have been refuted, with the feeling emerging there will not be a mass exodus of families.

Hoch and Wilkinson's Caroline Moriarty said other industries presented opportunities for residents, and the strained real estate market would feel a reprieve from soaring prices.

"There has been a little bit of a loss of confidence from investors since the announcement, but it's nothing concerning. Rio Tinto is the major employer, but not the only one," she said.

She said comparisons with BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance's Norwich Park Mine closure near Dysart were unfounded as Clermont was not a purpose-built mining town.

About 60% of recent purchases were from investors and buyers not directly associated with the mining industry, she said.

"It could be good for those wanting to relocate here," she said.

"There could be more rentals available but we won't really know until more information is released."

While the exact date of the site's closure was unknown, Rio Tinto's Clermont region manager operations Dawid Pretorius said the final day of production was dependant on the progress of mining operations over the coming months.

"The majority of employees have expressed interest in taking redundancy and we will try to accommodate other preferences such as redeployment where possible," he said.

"Since 2005, Rio Tinto had planned to close the mine at the end of this year and consulted with its community consultative committee and workforce.

"However, as coal prices rose in recent times, we looked to extend the life of the mine by mining a poorer quality coal."

The drop in thermal coal prices coupled with rising production costs and high Australian dollar rendered that option unviable.

Isaac Mayor Anne Baker said while the closure would impact on local families, Clermont had a bright future.

"Our population will double in the next 10 to 20 years as a result of the strong investment in our region's resources, with Clermont also continuing to provide a central point for our vibrant agricultural sector," Cr Baker said.


Mining wealth on the back of Blair Athol 

COAL has been exported from the Blair Athol site for about 150 years, during which the nearby towns have ridden the resource demand highs and lows. Wars increased the demand for the mine's high quality coal and in 1924, pit mining gave way to open cut. Japanese investors came onboard in the late 1970s, coinciding with the oil rush, which pushed coal demand up. The mine's open cut dragline reportedly produced more than 10 million tonnes of coal in 2005, on the backs of 190 employees. 

Shutdown news to force restructures 

CLERMONT businesses will be forced to restructure and improve their efficiencies in the wake of Rio Tinto's confirmation Blair Athol will close this year.

A founding member of the Clermont Community Business Group says the mining industry shake-up could prove beneficial for local businesses.

"There are opportunities now for those companies to trim back themselves and make them more efficient," Caroline Moriarty said.

"Because the mine's closure has not been a surprise, they would have planned for it."

Mrs Moriarty said early indications were given by the mine's operator, Rio Tinto, it would be closing before the previously set 2015 date, and the majority of Clermont-based businesses had factored that into their planning.

While she conceded the announcement had an impact on Clermont, the town held strong hopes the economic downturn contributing to slow coal markets would improve.

"We've had downturns before, and we will survive this one," she said.

Mrs Moriarty said having other industries and mine projects surrounding Clermont would give Blair Athol workers the ability to pursue employment options. 



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