By Sarah Plummer
For the Times West Virginian
Jim Justice announced Monday that 200 coal miners will be called back to work for Bluestone Resources Inc. at the Coal Mountain and Red Fox mine complexes in Wyoming and McDowell counties.
Justice, whose company originally owned the mines, recently purchased them back from the Russian company Mechel OAO, who idled the mines more than one year ago.
Although there were many complex issues involved in his decision to purchase and restart the mines, “It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Justice said he believed the mines might have gone into bankruptcy or the Russian company could have backed away from the operations completely, leaving retired United Mine Workers of America without retirement benefits and leaving the state of West Virginia responsible for land reclamation efforts.
“There was a real possibility they (Mechel OAO) could have just walked and left everyone holding the bag. With all that at play — and you know how I feel about West Virginia — the last thing on earth we needed was another bad outcome. If they had just left, it would have been tragic,” he explained.
“This is a great day for these families in the wake of all the devastation that has happened to the coal industry. I appreciate my relationship with all the hardworking people and officials of the UMWA.”
With the purchase, Justice has assumed $102 million in retirement liability.
Justice is in the process of hiring now and expects the mines to be operating at full rate in about 30 days.
Despite massive layoffs of coal miners in recent years due to the high costs of coal production and a decline in coal value, Justice said he believes his team can make the mines successful and solvent.
“When The Greenbrier was folding up, no one dreamed in a million years the New Orleans Saints would be there. We know the coal market is really though and there are too many sad stories; but we know Bluestone better than anyone and I strongly feel we can make a go of it,” he said. “This is a good deal, a good day. I’m really exciting and happy about it. There are no better people in the world than coal miners.
Justice is a hopeful for the 2016 governor’s race.
Sarah Plummer is a reporter for The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister paper of the Times West Virginian.