On the heels of a cryptic letter sent to out-of-work miners, bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel drafted another employee update Thursday morning that revealed its intention to potentially reopen the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, even as negotiations with Contura Energy over the sale of the mines remain ongoing.
“While the sale of the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines is still being actively pursued, Blackjewel is working on plans to restart operation on an expedited basis,” according to the document, which a company spokesperson sent to the Star-Tribune on Thursday morning.
The company “cannot provide a firm date when each sale will be completed.”
The document has since appeared in online bankruptcy court filings.
Blackjewel’s two coal mines in Campbell County suddenly ground to a halt on July 1 after the insolvent company filed for bankruptcy and failed to secure adequate funding to keep the mines operational during court proceedings.
Though a federal judge approved the sale of the two Wyoming mines early last month to former owner Contura for approximately $34 million, the sale was met with objections from the federal government over contested regulatory requirements and outstanding royalties. An agreement has yet to be reached with the government, according to the company.
About 190 workers have been brought back to the company’s mines nationwide to perform security and basic maintenance since production of coal ceased, according to the company’s financial reports submitted Sept. 10. Full operations of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines have yet to resume.
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Contura still holds the permits to the two mines and therefore the steep reclamation liabilities associated with the sites.
The letter sent Monday by Blackjewel to employees shed new light on the miners’ murky employment conditions. It referred to employees as “furloughed workers,” and requested a response by Sept. 19 if any of them plan to return to work, if the mines reopen.
If workers do not reply by that time, the company “will assume that you have voluntarily departed from the company, abandoned your position with the company, or have resigned,” Blackjewel stated in the letter.
To Rob Godby, an economist and director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, the company may be sending out a letter to cover its legal bases or assess how many miners would be available to work.
“It could just be them figuring out if the mines are a viable operation,” Godby said Wednesday. “If they had to hire, you might have a little bit of trouble attracting employees.”
According to Blackjewel, employees with questions can call 844-234-1462 with questions.