Blackjewel coal miners return to work as new operator sorts out permits
After enduring nearly four months of uncertainty, furloughed Blackjewel coal miners started to trickle back into work at two Powder River Basin mines Monday evening.
October 23, 2019
After enduring nearly four months of uncertainty, furloughed Blackjewel coal miners started to trickle back into work at two Powder River Basin mines Monday evening, on the heels of the sale closure between the bankrupt employer and a new operator.
Out-of-work miners started receiving calls from the new owner, Eagle Specialty Materials, after the company successfully assumed ownership of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines from Blackjewel on Friday. The long-awaited sale ushered in a new chapter for the fourth- and sixth-highest producing mines in the nation. The new owner told lawmakers it plans to bring the facilities back to full operation.
“It’s good to have the nightmare finally over,” said Michelle Young, an equipment operator who worked for Blackjewel before the company filed for bankruptcy and shut down its two Wyoming mines July 1. “We’re just getting things rolling again.”
With plans to return to work Nov. 4, Young said she is confident the transition will go smoothly.
“Everything is going to get back to normal,” she said.
In addition to the hardship caused to workers sent home indefinitely when Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the insolvent company walked away from the mines owing Campbell County tens of millions of dollars in ad valorem, or mineral production, taxes. Under the new operator, the county will receive $17.5 million — about half — of what Blackjewel failed to pay. The months of turbulent bankruptcy proceedings have kept the coal-dependent state holding its breath and waiting for answers.
“The Governor would like to commend the workers for their patience and the community of Gillette for the support shown to the miners throughout the closure,” Michael Pearlman, communications director for Gov. Mark Gordon, told the Star-Tribune over email.
“He would also like to thank the Campbell County Commissioners for their efforts throughout the negotiations. There was never any doubt the welfare of the miners were the first priority for both the state and the county.”