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The Deer Creek mine's life is coming to an end this spring after 40 years of lighting Utah homes with coal it delivered directly to PacifiCorp's adjacent Huntington power plant.
The mine's closure, announced Monday by PacifiCorp just 10 days before Christmas, will cost 182 employees their jobs. It also means that Utah no longer has a unionized mine, Deer Creek being the state's last affiliated with the United Mine Workers of America.
And it could change the face of Huntington, the closest Emery County town. To replace the coal that has flowed directly from Deer Creek to the power plant by conveyor belt, PacifiCorp will truck in coal from Bowie Resource Partners' mines in Carbon and Sevier counties.
"It looks to me like coal trucks will be coming from every direction, all the time," said Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon. "That's a big issue for the city the number of trucks that will be rumbling through. Those big old trucks weigh 40 tons a piece."
That worry compounded her dismay about the loss of so many solid-paying jobs. The state's latest unemployment report for Emery County had its jobless rate at 4.8 percent compared with 3.6 percent statewide.
"It's a real blow, finding out right before Christmas," Gordon said, adding that many residents saw it coming. "People have been expecting it but hoping it wasn't so."
The company and the union have been engaged in a cantankerous labor dispute for a couple of years, the past 18 months of which PacifiCorp tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer for the aging mine in lower Huntington Canyon.
PacifiCorp Energy President and CEO Micheal Dunn said the mine had become too expensive to operate.
"It no longer makes economic sense to keep the Deer Creek mine open," he said in a news release, citing its limited coal reserves (five years or less) and "rapidly escalating pension liabilities for the mine's represented workforce. [That] was a large factor in the economic viability of the mine."
The company said Monday it had signed a long-term coal supply agreement with Bowie Resources, a Kentucky company that moved into Utah in 2013 with its purchase of Canyon Fuel Co. and its three mines Sufco, Skyline and Dugout Canyon from Arch Coal. Sufco is by far the state's biggest coal mine.
"The new long-term coal supply agreement with Bowie will supply PacifiCorp with reasonably priced coal," Dunn said, "so we can continue to provide safe and reliable electric service to our customers."
PacificCorp said Monday that 182 employees were notified of the closure.
Huntington resident Will Kofford, a former union leader, had expected to return soon to work at Deer Creek after recovering from a shoulder injury, but he isn't sure now what he will do.
"It's kind of a shocker," he said, contending "there's no need to shut it down. Common sense tells you it's cheaper to run coal over to the plant on a [conveyor belt] rather than trucking it."
In the Carbon County town of Wellington, retiree Brad Timothy said he was sad to hear about the impending demise of a mine where he worked for 38 years "especially when there's still coal left there," he said. "But they got to do what they got to do, I guess."
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration showed Deer Creek had just under 200 employees for all of 2014, down from more than 300 for the past decade.
Coal production also has declined, from 3.9 million tons in 2005 to 1.6 million for the first nine months of 2014, MSHA records showed.