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Sale of Kemmerer coal mine complete

Lincoln County Commissioner Kent Connelly says the sale of the coal mine in Kemmerer is now complete and a Canadian company by the name of North American Construction Group Ltd has taken over.

He says the contract has been signed and the company is moving forward. He even mentioned that it has job listings posted for new management positions and other positions within the company.

“That’s the upside, essentially that bankruptcy is over with,” Connelly said.

Back in October of 2018 Westmoreland Coal Company announced it was filing for bankruptcy. The company had been up for sale and had interest from a Virginia millionaire before that deal fell apart. Last month a federal judge approved the sale to the new company.

Another snag was the back taxes Westmoreland owed to the county. Conelly says it negotiated with the county to pay its taxes owed.

“I can’t say it loud enough, they did not have to do that,” Connelly said. “That involved $9 million in taxes…that’s half of our budget.”

He says the county had to waive some fees to help them do it, but Westmoreland has agreed to a payment plan. Connelly says it is important that everyone understand that they worked with the county on that. He also says that with this agreement it will keep the budget right about where he anticipated it to be.

“The landscape is changing in the industry,” Connelly said. “And we got to change with it and we realize that. We also realize that (the business partners)…play a huge role in what our taxation is and who we are.

“Not just us, but the state. So we want these people to be business partners with us.”

Another concern was for the retirees that worked for the mining company. It was unsure what would happen to all of the retiring benefits they had worked for.

Connelly said he is not sure of all the specifics right now, but he talked with some of the retirees over the weekend and he said some plans still in good shape and some were still in jeopardy. He said the North American is doing what it called due diligence right now.

“I think the retirees are in better shape than they were before (the sale of the company),” Connelly said. “What that actually relates to, I’ll have to wait until it all gets settled out.”

He also said the biggest concern for these retirees is their health benefits. The previous collective bargaining agreement was stripped in February due to a judge in Texas ruling that Westmoreland could eliminate healthcare benefits for retirees. This was so the company could potentially sell the mine to the Virginia businessman.

Connelly said, for now, it appears the retirees are receiving their medical benefits.