Delta County loses another big coal mine with closure of Bowie #2
By Aldo Svaldi
Bowie Resource Partners said Friday that depressed coal prices have forced it to idle the Bowie #2 Mine near Paonia in the latest mine closure to hit Colorado’s Western Slope.
BRP, through its subsidiary Bowie Resources LLC, employed 108 full-time workers and one contractor at the facility.
The closure is another big economic blow to Delta County, whose coal industry employment has dropped from 1,200 positions to less than 400 since 2013. That doesn’t include the hundreds of support jobs in fields like construction and logging that helped keep the county’s mines running.
“The coal mines are very critical to the economy of Delta County. We have lost two-thirds of those jobs in the last three years,” said Robbie LeValley,Delta County administrator.
Gene DiClaudio, BRP’s chief financial officer, said the company expects to eliminate 68 full-time positions with the Bowie #2 closure, though a filing the company made with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment listed 102 layoffs.
“Some of the affected employees will be relocated where possible to fill vacancies in other parts of the business; however, layoffs are unfortunately unavoidable,” DiClaudio said in a statement.
Bowie #2 is the second big coal mine to shut down in Delta County. Oxbow Mining idled its Elk Creek Mine near Somerset in late 2013 and let go 115 workers. Initially that was because of a fire, but low demand for coal has prevented that mine from restarting.
The closure leaves the West Elk Mine, also near Somerset, as the county’s last big coal producer. That mine’s owner, Arch Coal, reported a $2 billion loss in the third quarter and filed forbankruptcy protection in January.
For Delta County, which has a population of 30,000, the hit from the Bowie #2’s closure is equivalent to several thousand jobs lost in one swoop in metro Denver, LeValley said.
People would be in an uproar about that, but the comparatively small number of jobs involved, a rural location and the ties to coal, now out of favor, will likely result in a minimal reaction in Colorado’s corridors of power, she feared.
Mining jobs pay about three times the average wage in that part of Colorado, so even if miners find a way to stay, they face a much lower standard of living, LeValley said.
Miners also tend to be younger than the county’s overall population. Their children attend area schools, and their families provide a vitality now lacking in many parts of rural Colorado, she said.
The county and its schools are also bracing for the big budgetary hits that the lost tax revenues from the closure will create, she said.
Along with its Colorado mine, Kentucky-based BRP also operates three underground coal mines in Utah. The four mines sold a combined 14 million tons of low-sulfur coal last year, primarily to power plants in Utah.
Bowie #2 once employed more than 300 miners, but shed 150 jobs in 2014 after BRP lost a contract to supply coal to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Regulatory efforts to reduce carbon emissions, including lawsuits from environmental groups, have weighed heavily on coal producers.
So too has the shift in the fuel sources for electric power generation and the economic slowdown in China, which is pushing commodity prices in general lower.
Colorado coal production dropped 18 percent last year to 18.2 million tons, less than half the peak of 40 million tons reached in 2004 and a 23-year low.