Udall presses for federal aid to soften mine closure

The federal government needs to take a more active role in helping coal miners displaced by the idling of Elk Creek Mine, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Elk Creek Mine, which is owned by Oxbow Resources, was idled Dec. 2 in the wake of closure of part of the mine by a fire, which forced abandonment of the longwall and other equipment.

The idling affected 115 employees soon after 150 were laid off as a result of the mine fire.

Udall urged the Commerce Department to “mobilize every available asset to ensure the recent layoffs do not cripple local economies” in Gunnison and Delta counties.

“These job losses have a compounding effect in that the mine is also one of the largest taxpayers in the area,” Udall wrote to the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.

The EDA confirmed receipt of the letter, but hasn’t responded to the request, Udall’s office said on Monday.

Oxbow Mining LLC, which opened the mine in 2001, planned to keep about 20 people to maintain the mine and prepare for future operations. In the meantime, the company is studying the possibility of opening a mine on Oak Mesa in Delta County.

Coal miners earn about $130,000 a year and Delta officials estimated that as many as seven other jobs are dependent on each mining job.

“A lot of folks are still in a wait-and-see mode,” said Sarah Carlquist of the Delta County Economic Development Council. “We’d like to keep them (laid-off miners) in the area, but it’s kind of hard to replace those kinds of salaries.”

Officials already adjusted the county budget to take into account lost revenue from the mines.

Delta County School District 50J has seen an enrollment drop of 140 students, an exodus that was at least worsened by the mine closure, Carlquist said. The district instituted a hiring freeze.


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