For the second time in as many weeks another coal producer has announced it is closing a number of its local underground mining operations as well as two of its preparation plants.
The most recent closures are located in Mingo and Logan counties and are being carried out by Kentucky-based Blackhawk Mining LLC.
This latest announcement comes on the heels of bankrupt Cambrian Coal LLC. furloughing an estimated 200 or more of its employees from the company’s Premier Elkhorn subsidiary at Myra, Kentucky last week.
That closure was a result of the Sept. 27 sale of Premier Elkhorn to a West Virginia company — Pristine Clean Energy, LLC.
In a statement released Tuesday by its corporate office in Lexington, Blackhawk officials said the West Virginia closures necessitated the immediate issuance of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices (WARN) to 342 employees who will be affected by the company’s cease of operations at these locations.
These operations, the statement said, include the Washington Underground Mine, the Muddy Bridge Underground Mine, the Buffalo Underground Mine, and the Franco Preparation Plant and Loadout in Logan County, along with the Mingo 1 Preparation Plant and the Mingo 2 (Scaggs) Loadout in Mingo County.
The company said it will additionally be idling operations at the No. 8 Underground Mine, which is a contract mine also located in Mingo County.
“Each affected employee will be encouraged to apply for open positions elsewhere in the company,” the statement said.
Mingo County Commission President Diann Hannah said that, although she was disheartened by Blackhawk’s decision, that decision didn’t necessarily come as a surprise when she heard about it.
Hannah said coal companies in general continue to struggle under the weight of federal regulations and that companies like Blackhawk, which produce metallurgical coal, are additionally feeling the financial crunch because there currently is little to no market for their product.
“There’s not a great deal of demand for metallurgical coal right now and when you couple that reality with the fact that these companies have the added burden of all these regulations, it’s not hard to understand why some of them like Blackhawk are forced to do this,” she said Wednesday.
While the loss of jobs in an already depressed local economy is the last thing the county needs at the present time, Hannah said she remains hopeful that this latest development with Blackhawk is only a temporary setback.
“Everybody I’ve talked to seems to think this is more of a restructuring thing than it is a permanent situation … that another company will take over these mining operations from Blackhawk at some point in the near future and began operations again,” she said. “I don’t know if this will be the case in this situation or not, but I’m hoping that it is and I’m going to stay as optimistic as I can until I know otherwise.”
Permanent workforce reductions resulting from the Blackhawk closures are anticipated to take effect in December, mining officials said.
In an attempt to shore up the company’s finances, in July Blackhawk filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
The company subsequently announced in a press release that it had reached an agreement with more than 90 percent of its lenders on the terms of a financial restructuring.
Aside from the West Virginia operations, Blackhawk is also the owner of the Hazard, Kentucky-based Blue Diamond Coal Company, which has several active and inactive operations in Perry and surrounding Kentucky counties.