TRINIDAD — The coal mine west of Trinidad that earlier this year employed more than 300 people — including some from Colfax County — but has been mostly shutdown since this past summer could reopen sometime in the first quarter of next year if company plans proceed as envisioned.

“Everything is right to reopen,” said Dave Stone, chief operation officer of the New Elk Coal Mine in Weston, Colo.

Stone has been working with Toronto-based mine owner Cline Mining Corporation for the past four months, making changes needed to reopen the mine and rehire employees.

“I have redone the whole mining plan on a mining engineering basis,” he said, adding that the mine previously had not been able to sell its coal, eventually triggering the layoff of most employees in July and what was expected to be a 60-day shutdown of the mine. However, in September, the company announced the shutdown would continue as the company awaited “improved market conditions.”

Stone said there are now four interested buyers in the metallurgical coal that New Elk produces, and based on these tentative contracts, the mine is working on an internal plan to try to reopen in the first quarter of 2013.

After a site visit to the mine, an analysis by a Canadian investment consulting firm reported that “production could start almost immediately upon the announcement of coal sales and would ramp up progressively with the manpower rehires planned in stages over a four-month period.”

Currently, 22 people — one from Colfax County — are employed at the mine. Those employees include tradesmen and mining supervisors who are doing the care and maintenance and are also preparing the mine to potentially reopen. Stone said they are working on “the action plan implementation.”

New Elk employed 330 people at its peak in early May. The first layoffs of 75 occurred May 18 and a layoff of 200 occurred July 13. If everything works the way Stone thinks it will, the mine’s new plan would hire 50-60 workers within 30 days of securing a coal sales agreement, and 60 days after that will hire another 50-60 workers, and again hire 50 more employees in the following 60 days, and once more in the next 60 days.

Stone hopes to eventually have “two mines, two prep plants and two longwalls (used to cut coal from underground walls) and 700 people. That’s our goal.” However, he stressed that the market will determine whether the company’s goal can be met.
The New Elk Mine was originally opened in 1951 by the CF&I Steel Company to provide metallurgical coking coal for its blast furnace iron and steel production in Pueblo, Colo. The CF&I plant was converted to electrolytic reduction of steel in 1981, eliminating its need for coking coal, and the mine was sold to Wyoming Fuels, which operated the mine until 1989. The coal preparation plant, which was built in 1984 to improve product coal specification, continued operating with coal from other nearby mines until 1996.

Cline Mining produces coal in Colorado, iron ore in Madagascar and gold in northern Ontario, Canada.