The announcement of layoffs at Bowie Mine #2 on Sept. 29 by its wholly-owned subsidiary, Bowie Resources LLC (BRP), is expected to have lasting negative impacts on Delta County's economy.
BRP will lay off 78 full-time positions and eliminate 19 contractors as part of its efforts to scale back production of its Bowie #2 mine at Somerset "as a result of idling its longwall while it develops a new longwall panel and continues to evaluate the market for Bowie #2 coal," according to a press release. Development of the new longwall panel is expected to take 12 months.
The mine currently employs 181 full-time employees and contractors, according to the release. "Some of the affected employees will be relocated where possible to fill vacancies in other parts of the business," stated Gene E. DiClaudio, BRP's chief operating officer, in the release. "However, layoffs are unfortunately unavoidable."
According to the release, BRP owns and operates three underground coal mines in Utah and one in Colorado. With 15.8 million tons of coal sales in 2014, it is the leading western producer of bituminous coal -- "clean-burning, low-sulfur thermal coal," primarily for use for domestic power generators in Utah. Bowie Mine #2 has been in production since 1998. According to the BPR website, from 2000 through 2007 it was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 nationwide "for efficient longwall production."
Bowie Resources eliminated 150 jobs last fall after losing a contract to sell coal to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The layoffs bring the number of local mining jobs lost since 2012 to almost 600.
While exact figures weren't available, the effects "will be significant on our Delta County families, schools and community," said county administrator Robbie LeValley.
It's too early to tell just how the job losses will affect Delta County School District enrollment or future budgets, said school district business manager Jim Ventrello. Since this school year's budget reflects the 2014-15 student count, the district won't feel the financial effects until the 2016-2017 school calendar year. While final figures weren't available, districtwide student numbers this year are down an estimated 44 students, but not nearly the 160 students the district anticipated it would lose and that was reflected in the budget for this school year.
The district has a ballpark figure on the number of students attached to mining families, but it's impossible to accurately predict how many students might leave the district without knowing which students' family members were affected by layoffs, said Ventrello.
The loss of students and the anticipated drop in coal production due to the shutdown will affect next year's budget through loss of federal mineral lease revenues, said Ventrello. The district's share of those dollars for this school year was $53,168, which it has already received. Last year the district received $82,438, meaning that revenue, while it isn't a huge percentage of the budget, is anticipated to drop again next year.
It was also announced last week that BRP is the target of a federal lawsuit. The environmental group WildEarth Guardians announced it would sue to overturn the approval of mineral leases by the U.S. Department of the Interior in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado, including almost 1,800 acres of private, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands in Delta County. The leases were applied for and approved in 2013.
The suit challenges approval of four leases over failure of the Department of the Interior "to provide any public notice of its decisions and to account for the climate impacts of approving expanded coal mining," according to a press release by WildEarth Guardians. BRP representatives did not return calls requesting comment.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.