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From the Tracks, Blackjewel Miners Watch the Courts

The Eagle Butte mine in Wyoming would be sold separately from other Blackjewel properties during the bankruptcy. (Mr Satterly/Wikipedia)
The Eagle Butte mine in Wyoming would be sold separately from other Blackjewel properties during the bankruptcy. (Mr Satterly/Wikipedia)
September 5, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With court hearings in Charleston and other legal moves under way, the former Blackjewel miners blocking coal shipments say they remain optimistic.

Most of the miners in Harlan County, Ky., have registered as debtors in the Blackjewel bankruptcy.

Miner Jeff Willig says the miners also are watching a separate legal case where the company is trying to force them to stop blocking the train, after nearly a month and a half. He says they're not moving.

“Being on the tracks and just holding the track down,” he states. “And we have the labor board on our side, basically saying, 'No, you're not moving until these men get paid.'

Blackjewel lawyers are arguing that the delay is making the coal decay and become less valuable.

The future of about 200 jobs in Harlan County – and another 900 or so in Wyoming, Tennessee and West Virginia – depends on the complex process of selling the separate Blackjewel mines through bankruptcy.

Kopper Glo Mining has said it wants to buy the Kentucky mines – to produce valuable, metallurgical coal.

Willig says he has applied with Kopper Glo, and he bristles at the charge – made on social media – that the protest is delaying the sale of the mines. He says that started with folks near Blackjewel's former CEO.

“No one from Kopper Glo has ever approached us and been, like, 'Hey, you're delaying the sale of this mine if you don't get off his tracks, so we can give your jobs back to you,'” he states. “The only one to make a comment like that has been Jeff Hoops's lawyer."

Willig and others have expressed frustration that Blackjewel's investors and Hoops' unrelated projects seem to be protected in the bankruptcy.

Critics also point out that West Virginia has loosened bond requirements, saying mines have to set aside funds for pay in case they go out of business.

Kentucky retained those bond rules, but they seem not to have been enforced.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV