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Auction set for bankrupt coal producer Blackjewel's assets

In a Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, the Belle Ayr Mine stands near Gillette, Wyo. Two coal mines in Wyoming and one in West Virginia owned by a company in bankruptcy could reopen if a judge approves a purchase offer. Court documents show Bristol, Tennessee-based Contura Energy has offered $20.6 million for the mines owned by Milton, West Viginia-based Blackjewel LLC. The mines have been closed since Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)

JOHN RABY
Associated Press

Published: August 7, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An auction is set for the assets of bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel LLC.

A notice filed in federal bankruptcy court in West Virginia said the auction is scheduled for Thursday morning at the Cincinnati law office of attorneys representing Blackjewel.

Bristol, Tennessee-based Contura Energy last week offered $20.6 million as the stalking horse bidder for two mines in Wyoming and one in West Virginia owned by Milton-based Blackjewel. The purchase could put hundreds back to work at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming and Pax Surface Mine in Scarbro, West Virginia. They've been closed since Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 1.

According to the bidding process, other qualifying bids made by Wednesday's deadline triggered the auction. The notice didn't disclose the other bids.

Blackjewel attorney Stephen Lerner had said any party could bid on any combination of Blackjewel's assets.

Blackjewel also operates mines in Kentucky and Virginia, and the fate of those depends on the outcome of the bidding process.

The auction comes after miners who said they hadn't been paid by Blackjewel blocked the transport of coal along train tracks this week near Cumberland, Kentucky.

According to Contura's offer, it would provide an $8.1 million deposit toward the purchase to be applied to cash-strapped Blackjewel's expenses. Contura would acquire the assets without assuming Blackwater's liens.

Under the proposal, Blackjewel's 401(k) employee retirement plan would be terminated, allowing workers whose paychecks have bounced to have immediate access to their contributions.

Blackjewel holds the license to mine coal in Wyoming while Contura, a company created out of the 2015 bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources, holds the state mine permits. Blackjewel recently missed a $1 million tax payment owed to Campbell County, Wyoming — one of Blackjewel's largest creditors.

Contura sold the Wyoming mines to Blackjewel in 2017. They were among the top-producing coal mines in the U.S.

Blackjewel follows other major U.S. coal producers that have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, including Englewood, Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Co. in October and Gillette, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy in May.

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp. emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2017 and both St. Louis-based Arch Coal and Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha emerged in 2016.

The auction of another bankrupt coal company, Gillette, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy Corp., will be held Aug. 8. The company is selling its assets to cover nearly $400 million in outstanding debt.

Cloud Peak operates the Antelope and Cordero Rojo coal mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in southern Montana.


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