Coal miners and their families filled the gym at the Paonia branch of the Delta Montrose Technical College on Saturday. Many of them were among the 300 people laid off by Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset last month. They were there to hear state Senator Gail Schwartz and others talk about how the state could help them deal with the job losses. Some ideas included rural economic development grants and financial aid for miners to go back to school. But many people left the meeting feeling just as lost as before.
It’s been a rough season for the coal mines of the North Fork Valley. Last week, Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset laid off another 115 workers, bringing the total number of jobs cut at that mine this fall to over 250.
For the past few months, KVNF’s Programming Director Ali Lightfoot has been helping local kids produce radio stories as a part of our youth reporting project, Pass the Mic.
The project is now in its second year and is a collaboration of KVNF and the North Fork Heart and Soul Project. The stories these kids produce tackle a number of contentious issues, one of them being the energy industry.
Mike Ludlow, Executive Vice President of Oxbow’s mining operations, points to where managers hope to start coal mining at Elk Creek Mine with a new or rebuilt longwall miner. Those plans are on hold while Oxbow Mining tries to line up that equipment.
Two weeks ago, the coal mine near Paonia owned by billionaire Bill Koch laid off more than half of its employees. The Koch owned Oxbow Mining company hopes to expand operations again in the future and rehire some of the workers. In the meantime the layoffs are creating hardships for a number of communities.
“It’s very sad time around the mine, you know to lose your income and lose your job is real traumatic, so it’s very painful decision for us," says Mike Ludlow, the Executive Vice President of Oxbow’s mining operations.
This election season, some political opinions are being boldly expressed around the North Fork Valley. Yard signs read: “STOP THE WAR ON COAL—FIRE OBAMA.” Area coal miners demonstrated the same message on a rainy afternoon a few weeks ago. KVNF’s Ariana Brocious took a look at the economic realities behind the “war on coal” rhetoric.