PINEVILLE, W.Va. — Following the recent purchase of the Pinnacle Mine’s preparation plant in Wyoming County by one of his companies, Gov. Jim Justice said operations at the mine could resume within 12 months, after coal extraction and processing at the site ceased in 2018.
During his campaign tour through southern West Virginia Thursday, the governor emphasized he is not involved in the day-to-day functions of his family’s businesses, though he went on to express cautious optimism about the likelihood of the restoration of several hundred jobs lost as a result of the shutdown.
“We did get the cleaning plant, the property, and the Green Ridge reserve. You know what’s going to happen? The whole area is going to come back to life,” he said.
“It’s all dependent upon one thing: can we fit this metallurgical coal into the marketplace? If Jay (Justice) and them can do that, and they can fit it in into the marketplace, whether the market’s Korea or China or India or wherever it may be, then that total number of jobs (between 400 and 500), we’ll be able to achieve that, probably, within a year.”
Noting the diminished value of low-volatile coking coal, Justice nonetheless said he foresaw output at the mine exceeding the total amount of annual production generated by Pinnacle, during its peak years.
“When those 500 miners were working underground and everything, Pinnacle, for the last probably five years, has probably had an average production of less than two million (tons), and we have plans to be able to take it to seven million. And, that’s the number I get from our people,” said Justice.
When the mine’s closure became imminent in Oct. 2018, the governor pledged to assist in whatever way he could to prevent the shutdown from becoming permanent. In a press release, he said the mine “still has some very quality reserves.”
In May, a federal bankruptcy court ordered Contour Energy, a Justice family business, to pay $1.5 million in back taxes owed by the mine’s former owner, Mission Coal, which declared bankruptcy at the time of the closure. The governor said Thursday he was not aware of the tax liability specifics.
During the court hearing, the United Mine Workers Association contract pertaining to the Pinnacle Mine was voided, along with the requirement that the new owners wait one year before opening the mine non-union. When asked about the future role of the UMWA in the resumption of mining production at the Pineville site, Justice was noncommittal.
“We don’t have any obligation — it should really be no obligation — to run any of it, from a standpoint of union, but the unions and us are working together to be able to put a plan together to where we can do that,” he said.
UMWA Local 1713 President Robert Bowman did not respond to a request from MetroNews for comment.