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State-owned coal miner Solid Energy is selling a coal mine it has closed, arguing smaller companies may be interested in operating it.
It is calling for expressions of interest from anyone interested in buying and operating its Terrace Underground Coal Mine at Reefton by the end of January and, depending on the number and quality of responses, will make a decision by April 2010.
The government has pledged not to sell assets in its first term though there have been calls for partial privatisations.
When operations ceased in June, the Terrace mine was no longer an economic operation for Solid Energy, said Simon Doig, general manager of South Island operations.
A number of people in the industry had since suggested that the mine could be a viable business for a smaller-scale operator so, before letting the workings flood and removing the infrastructure, Solid Energy would test that hypothesis.
"The point about the exercise is that some people believe Terrace has the potential to continue to provide a number of jobs and generate earnings for the district. If that is the case, this exercise should prove it one way or the other."
Solid Energy was not estimating a sale price.
"We know what the portable assets are worth but we look to the market for an indication of what Terrace may be worth to another operator," Mr Doig said.
"We're doing this reasonably quickly because keeping the mine dry and ventilated is costly."
If there were no offers the mine would be decommissioned and rehabilitation begun on surface areas.
Terrace Mine was established in the early 1900s and was privately owned until 1988, when Coalcorp bought a controlling stake. Production peaked at a little over 73,000 tonnes in 2002/03.