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Mining continues in wake of bankruptcy filing

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"Arch is open for business, and our mining operations will continue without interruption."

After voluntarily filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, Arch Coal, the owner of the local West Elk Mine, assured employees mine operations nationwide will continue "today and tomorrow as we did yesterday -- safely, responsibly and efficiently."

A letter addressed to employees stated, "Although industrywide challenges persist, we are confident coal will play a critical role in supplying the world with energy and steel for decades to come. The industry is undergoing great change, but our strong operations, exceptional workforce, and agreement with our lenders will further equip Arch to navigate through current challenges. We are confident in Arch's future outlook, and believe that we are uniquely positioned to emerge a stronger and more competitive company."

The action taken by Arch Coal on Jan. 11 is expected to eliminate more than $4.5 billion in debt from Arch's balance sheet and position the company for long-term financial success. To facilitate this financial restructuring, Arch elected to file for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

"We are confident that this court-supervised process is the best way to solidify Arch's financial position," employees were told in a letter posted on the corporation website.

Arch Coal is the second largest coal producer in the United States, contributing 16 percent of the nation's annual coal supply through its network of mines.

County commissioner Bruce Hovde said the county has been assured by a West Elk representative that the mine's labor force of 325 to 350 remains intact.

"It appears as though things are stable for now," he said.

Roadless Rule
Exception Deadline

Kathy Welt, a West Elk employee, declined to comment on bankruptcy proceedings, but did refer to the Colorado Roadless Rule exception with which she's been heavily involved. The comment period for proposed reinstatement of the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception was extended to Jan. 15.

The Colorado Roadless Rule is a state-specific rule that provides direction for conserving and managing approximately 4.2 million acres of Colorado Roadless Areas on national forest system lands within the state of Colorado. The North Fork Coal Mining Area exception allowed for temporary road construction for coal exploration and/or coal-related surface activities in an area defined as the North Fork Coal Mining Area.

"We believe there are coal resources out there, but we haven't been able to explore," Welt said. "The exception assures we would have the opportunity to apply for leases, to apply for permits."

Although the 19,700-acre exception is adjacent to two existing mines, West Elk and Oxbow, exploration would be opened to any operator, pending extensive environmental analysis.

Welt said the exception was the result of six years of extensive negotiations. It ultimately had the approval of Governors Ritter, Owens and Hickenlooper, and was signed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. It was set aside after the District Court of Colorado identified purported environmental deficiencies pointed out by WildEarth Guardians. The Forest Service, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, has prepared a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) addressing those deficiencies and correcting the boundaries associated with the North Fork Coal Mining Area based on updated information.

The SDEIS is available for review and comment online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/coroadlessrule. Comments may be mailed to 740 Simms, Golden, CO 80401, or faxed to 303-275-5134. An electronic comment form is available at go.usa.gov/3JQwJ.

Welt says anyone impacted by the coal industry -- which is just about everybody in Delta County -- is encouraged to comment.

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Coal, North Fork
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