SHERIDAN — Decker Coal Mine has restored the majority of jobs cut during the mass layoffs of January 2013.
General Manager Stephen Ketcham said the mine cut 59 workers more than a year ago, and of those, 32 have since been hired back. The other 27, he said, were offered their jobs back but chose to take work elsewhere.
By March of this year, those employees who wanted their positions back, had them. Ketcham also said the mine has filled eight new positions in the past few weeks in order to meet production demands.
“We ship to domestic customers in the Midwest,” Ketcham said. “We’re planning on shipping between 3.2 and 3.8 million tons this year.”
Ketcham indicated that this year’s production projections aren’t drastically different from last year’s, but that this year, the work to get the coal out of the ground requires a bigger workforce.
He said the jobs are varied among a broad spectrum of operations at the surface mine.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in advance — pre-stripping, for example,” he explained. “We didn’t have any of that to do in 2013, but there’s lots in 2014 that needs to be completed.”
The Decker Mine is situated approximately 35 miles northeast of Sheridan and is owned in a 50/50 partnership between the Australia-based Ambre Energy and U.S.-based Cloud Peak Energy. Around the time of the mass layoffs, the two companies were engaged in a legal battle regarding a dispute over mine management.
The 2013 layoffs were formally attributed to “ongoing expense management activities,” in a press release from Decker Coal.
Domestic demand for coal is on the decline due to the availability of other energy forms and restrictive environmental regulations on existing coal powered electric plants. The Cloud Peak and Ambre team have since expressed interest in exporting coal from the Powder River Basin to interested Asian markets, but the establishment of an export terminal on the West Coast of the U.S. has been met with staunch opposition from environmental groups.
Last week, the governor of Oregon made public statements firmly against efforts to establish an international shipping terminal in his state in the town of Bordman.
Proponents of domestic coal tout the resource as an alternative to foreign oil and point to the significant economic boost the industry provides its communities. Last year, the Decker Mine paid just under half a million dollars in property taxes to Big Horn County in Montana. The mine has paid a cumulative $500 million to federal, state and private interests in the form of mineral royalty payments since its inception approximately 40 years ago.
The Montana Coal Council estimates that each mining job creates an accessory three and a half jobs in peripheral services. With Sheridan being the closest urban center to the mine, it’s estimated that half of the mine’s employees live and spend money in the local economy.