McKinley Mine to cease operations in December

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 24, 2009

Text size: A A A

For years, everyone has known the McKinley Mine's days were numbered.

After two layoffs in the last five years as the mine exhausted its leased coal reserves, officials of the mining operation just east of Window Rock have announced that mining operations will stop altogether at the end of 2009.

The company announced at the same time that about a third of the existing employees - some 80 workers - will be laid off between now and then.

The remaining workers will stay on for a period of two or three years to help reclaim land disturbed by mining activities.

Margaret Lejuste, a spokeswoman for the owner, Chevron Mining, stressed that the company is not calling an end to the mine because efforts are still underway to mine a portion of the lease area called section 16.

"If we can find a client (for that coal) in the next couple of years, we would be able to resume operations," she said.

The mine currently sells its coal to Arizona Public Service, which uses it to fuel the Cholla Generating Station at St. Joseph, Ariz.

APS, however, found another supplier when Chevron announced a few years ago that the McKinley lease would be mined out by 2009 or 2010.

So if the mine is to continue operating, Lejuste said, it will have to find another customer who needs its coal, and that's easier said than done.

"There's not as much demand for coal when the economy is down," she said.

As factories and other types of business slow down, electricity use goes down and power plants that supply the electricity don't need to burn as much coal.

"Our salespeople are out there trying to find customers," she said.

Fortunately, the McKinley Mine - unlike the Black Mesa Mine near Kayenta - has easy access to the main rail line serving the region. The Black Mesa Mine remains closed since 2005, when the sole consumer of its coal shut down.

Chevron has not decided which individuals - almost all the workers at risk are Navajos - will lose their jobs in the next few months but Lejuste said that should be known in the next few days. The layoffs will occur in stages throughout October, November and December.

For union members, the layoffs will be based on what is in their contract, which means that those with the most seniority have a better chance of keeping their jobs.

As for management personnel, LeJuste said the company has a procedure to govern who gets the pink slip.

The McKinley Mine opened in 1962 and not only provided as many as 600 jobs at its peak, but also contributed millions of dollars in coal royalties to the Navajo Nation, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes to McKinley County.

The good-paying jobs brought prosperity to the local economy, helping to fuel sales of big-ticket items like pickup trucks, mobile homes and appliances far beyond what could usually be expected in a town the size of Gallup.

"It was a great run but whenever you open up a mine, you know that there will come a time when the mine will close," Lejuste said.

Back to top ^

Text size: A A A  email this pageE-mail this story