Blair Athol closure saddens

TOMORROW, three decades of Blair Athol's influence in Clermont will come to a screeching halt.

The closure of the Rio Tinto-owned coal mine means the end of an era for many Clermont residents, including the owner of Breckon Steel Fabrications, Paul Breckon.

"Blair Athol has been part of the community for a long time, so people are just sad," Mr Breckon said. "Obviously there will be people leaving town and that will affect businesses, (like) the grocery shop, the hairdressers."

The Rio Tinto-managed operation first produced coal in May 1984. More than 250 million tonnes of thermal coal has been produced during the mine's lifetime, much coming from one of the thickest coal seams mined in Australia, averaging more than 30 metres deep in parts.

Rio Tinto announced the mine's closure on August 8. It affected 170 staff and contractors on site.

About 30 will be kept for the parts of Blair Athol still used by nearby Clermont Mine, including its coal handling and preparation plant.

Rio Tinto general manager operations Clermont region Dawid Pretorius said the company was expected to take up to five years to completely rehabilitate the site - a task which will result in the refund of an $84 million land assurance bond from the State Government.

"The rehabilitation work is planned to run over a period of between three and five years," he said. "Beyond this, we will retain responsibility for ongoing monitoring and any further remediation work that may be required, as part of our long-term commitment to the rehabilitation process."

Clermont Leo Hotel Motel owner Ian Gill knew the mine's end was imminent.

But he said the closure had impacted on the community more than expected as it coincided with other local resource projects winding up.

"Six months ago we were turning more people away than we could ever hope to accommodate but now that's changed. We still have very good occupancy rates but we're no longer turning away as many people as before.

"But it's not Blair Athol which has caused that - it's all of them coming together."

Mr Gill said recent job cuts at nearby Clermont Coal Mine, and the end of road maintenance and railway projects had also impacted on the community.

"It's a difficult situation here in as much as there's a lot of other downturns going on at the same time," he said.

However, Mr Breckon said the town would weather the resource downturn, as it had many times before.

"We're just battening down the hatches. It's the third downturn I've been through in my working career, it's just part of the cycle of the mining game. It's a very resilient town, we're 150 years old next year. We're trying to look at the positives and ... not linger on the downturn and the closure."



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