More layoffs hit Bowie coal mine

Bowie Resource Partners plans to lay off nearly 100 people at its Bowie #2 Mine near Paonia in the latest setback to coal employment in the North Fork Valley.

The company said Tuesday that it anticipates laying off 78 workers and 19 contractors from the mine, where 181 full-time employees and 19 contractors work now.

Bowie says the layoff is a result of idling its underground longwall mining operation as it prepares a new longwall panel for mining, which is expected to take about a year. But it also said in a notice to the state Department of Labor and Employment that the layoffs could be permanent, and it says it is continuing to evaluate the market for the mine’s coal after losing a contract to sell to the Tennessee Valley Authority a year ago. The loss of that contract caused Bowie to eliminate about 150 jobs at that time.

Bowie operates three underground mines in Utah along with the one near Paonia.

“Some of the affected employees will be relocated where possible to fill vacancies in other parts of the business; however, layoffs are unfortunately unavoidable,” Gene E. DiClaudio, Bowie Resource Partners’ chief operating officer, said in a written statement.

Paonia Mayor Neal Schwieterman called the latest layoffs “absolutely” tough economic news for the region. He noted there is an ongoing effort to diversify the region’s economy.

“That said, these are the best-paying jobs in the valley so they’re hard to replace,” he said.

The region’s diversification efforts were prompted in part by the idling of Oxbow Mining’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset in 2013, after it was forced to abandon its longwall equipment due to a fire.

Arch Coal continues to operate its West Elk Mine in the Somerset area.

Domestic coal producers have faced market challenges including increased competition from abundant natural gas as a power-plant fuel, and regulatory efforts aimed at reducing power-plant pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. The TVA has closed some coal plants and retired some coal boiler units, and has been getting what coal it still uses from cheaper sources based on the delivered cost.

Bowie says its mines now primarily supply power plants in Utah. Bowie notified the state of the latest layoffs as part of its compliance with federal law requiring a 60-day notification of affected workers.

Its notification says the layoffs will be effective Nov. 30.

Schwieterman said everyone in Paonia knows someone who already has been affected by other recent coal-mining layoffs in the area. He said he knows a number of people who have left to take jobs in New Mexico, and a local paper has run ads advertising mining jobs in Montana. The departure of some residents has resulted in impacts to everything from the real estate market to the local school district, he said.

Kurt Clay, assistant superintendent of Delta County Schools, said the new layoffs raise concerns about future impacts to the district.

Its funding is based on enrollment, which topped out at more than 5,500 in 2009 and is around 4,800 now, he said. The district was forced to make some significant staffing cuts about two years ago.

This year it budgeted enrollment to be down about 160 students, but Clay said he believes the actual reduction was only about 60.

“I think some families are rooted here and they’re just finding other work,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Interior Department approved a new Bowie #2 Mine project that involves nearly 1,800 acres and is projected to extend the mine’s life by three to five and a half years. Recently, the conservation group WildEarth Guardians sued the government to challenge that approval and ones involving several mines in other states. It raised some of the same issues it successfully raised in another case involving mine expansion approvals near Craig, in which a judge agreed with the group that the government should have accounted for the climate impacts of burning coal in considering the approvals.

Brian Settles, senior vice president, secretary and general counsel for Bowie Resource Partners, said Tuesday that the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.


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