A bankruptcy judge has approved the proposed sale of Blackjewel LLC’s Black Mountain and Lone Mountain assets.
Meanwhile, the bankruptcy court in West Virginia will reconvene today to continue working through the hundreds of motions and claims that are filed daily in the case.
Kopper Glo Mining LLC issued a press release Aug. 6 announcing that it was the successful bidder for Blackjewel’s Black Mountain and Lone Mountain operations, which straddle the Virginia/Kentucky line near Appalachia and St. Charles.
Based in Knoxville, Tenn., Kopper Glo currently has several operations in Claiborne County, Tenn. The company has operated since 1958.
The bid includes $6.35 million in cash, royalties with a present value of $9.1 million and assumption of $38.4 million in asset retirement obligations.
Kopper Glo said its goal “is to operate the Lone and Black Mountain mines and associated prep plants in the safest and most responsible way possible. The Black and Lone Mountain complexes consist of three coal preparation plants with the capability to process 1,000 tons per hour each, three unit train rail loading facilities, as well as coal reserves to ensure mining for many years.”
Further, company management said it “has a plan to re-start certain operations and is confident this plan will bring jobs back to many of the former Blackjewel employees. Kopper Glo is also committed to funding to the portion of the back wages due to the employees.”
President Hunter Hobson and Chief Operating Officer Keith Dyke said the assets “are some of the few remaining premium coal properties in the United States and are located in an area with incredibly skilled coal miners and individuals with a strong passion and conviction for the coal industry.”
“We are excited to work with the communities surrounding these operations to restore these operations to their fullest potential,” Dyke said.
“We are committed to bring as many people back to work as quickly as possible,” Hobson said.
Kopper Glo pledged to commit $450,000 to pay former Blackjewel employees for unpaid wages. Also, the company will set a per-ton fee that will accumulate up to $550,000 over the next two years, which also will be distributed to Blackjewel workers.
Still to be approved are:
• Rhino Energy LLC’s bid for several other Virginia assets of Blackjewel, which has operations in Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan counties. The Kentucky company offered $850,000 in cash, royalties with a present value of $208,000 and assumption of $6.07 million in asset retirement obligations.
• Coking Coal LLC’s bid for the Pardee mine operation. The Kentucky firm offered $50,000 in cash, royalties with a present value of nearly $2.42 million and assumption of $1.2 million in asset retirement obligations.
• Tye Fork Coal Co. Inc.’s bid for the “LM6” mine, which is listed in the sale agreement as Cumberland River Coal LLC Meadow Branch surface. The bid included $400,000 in cash and assumption of $75,000 in asset retirement liabilities.
HELP FOR MINERS
Displaced Blackjewel miners have complained that after their June 28 paychecks bounced, the company would not allow them to access their 401(k) retirement plans to obtain cash.
That has changed. In an Aug. 9 update, Blackjewel notified employees that the retirement plan has been terminated. “As a result, you are eligible to receive your Plan account now or elect to receive your Plan account in a direct rollover to an individual retirement account or another qualified plan.”
On Aug. 9, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a motion asking the bankruptcy court to halt the movement of coal from Blackjewel facilities in Honaker and Raven.
“The coal in question was produced by the employees who Blackjewel LLC failed to compensate,” the motion states. “As such, the coal is considered ‘hot goods’ and should not be transported or transferred until these workers have been paid their proper wages.”
About 20,000 tons of metallurgical coal for steel production, valued at $2.5 million or more, is stockpiled at Raven, it states, while about 16,800 tons are stockpiled at Honaker.
But in a response filed Aug. 10, Blackjewel stated that some “specific portions” of the coal had been sold to a different company, Blackjewel Marketing and Sales, which is not one of the debtors involved in the bankruptcy filing. Blackjewel had already agreed not to move the coal until an agreement to do so has been reached.
In that response, Blackjewel noted that the labor department had also express concern that the company’s Pigeon Creek facility and other sites might have coal that could be shipped.
Actions to halt the movement of mined coal began in response to a late July incident in which Blackjewel miners learned that a coal train was leaving the site of a company mine near Cumberland, Ky.
Miners occupied the railroad track to prevent the train from leaving. Ultimately, protesters agreed to let CSX decouple its engine and move it from the scene, leaving the loaded coal cars behind.
Weeks later, the Kentucky miners and supporters continue to protest on the tracks beside highway 119. Their efforts brought the plight of unpaid employees to national attention.