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Anglo American to shutter last Tumbler Ridge coal mine

Anglo American Coal will idle operations at its Tumbler Ridge mine by the end of the year, the company announced today.
The closure of the Trend coal mine in Tumbler Ridge will leave the district, which was once entirely dependent on mining, without a working mine.

Anglo American Coal will idle operations at its Tumbler Ridge mine by the end of the year, the company announced today.

The Trend Mine, which produces hard coking coal for use in steel production, is the last operating mine in the community of around 2,700. The mine employs around 300 people.

Federico Velasquez, Anglo American Canada's director of corporate affairs, told the Alaska Highway News that the majority of crews were informed of the closure Wednesday.

"We have notified our employees as of yesterday that we're going to be going ahead with a wind down of operations," he said.  

Velasquez said the mine would be fully idle by December. "It's very likely most of them already know or may expect," he said.

It's the latest in a string of bad breaks for Tumbler Ridge, which continues to be largely dependent on mining.

In April, Walter Energy idled its mine in Tumbler Ridge following a drop in the price of metallurgical coal. The company also idled operations at two smaller mines outside Chetwynd. In total, around 700 people lost their jobs due to the closures.

Mayor Darwin Wren said Thursday morning that he had not yet received official word of the closure.

"Any type of news like that is devastating for employees," he said.

Tumbler Ridge famously went through a devastating series of mine closures in the early 2000. Wren said the community has tried to diversify its economy in recent years, especially in the tourism and wind energy sectors.

Brett Chapman, the head of the local International Union of Operating Engineers, told the Alaska Highway News that many miners on the Trend project suspected they would be next when Walter Energy closed its operations.

"With coal prices what they are, the surprise isn't that they closed their doors – it's that they remained open as long as they did," he said.

As of Thursday morning, he was preparing for a conference call with Anglo American, saying "we've got a thousand questions we need answers to."

Chief among those questions, he said, concerned a HD Mining coal project in Tumbler Ridge, which made headlines when the union took the company to court in 2013 over its use of temporary foreign workers.

HD plans to extract coal using underground long-wall mining techniques, which the company maintains required bringing in specialists from China. Though the union’s case was ultimately dismissed, their contention was that Canadian workers with similar qualifications had applied and been rejected.

"What makes their mine more viable than the ones that have just shut down?" Chapman said. "They say they didn't have qualified Canadians, but now we've got a huge labour pool that's opened up."

In any event, there are worries that Tumbler Ridge could lose a large chunk of its population.

Carmen Drapeau, the manager of the Tumbler Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said the last round of mine closures hit local businesses hard.

"Some people have had to find work elsewhere," she said. "Some people have moved, though I couldn't tell you exact numbers for that."

"It really puts their lives into upheaval, it's very stressful for them. A lot of the folks have young children and families," said Wren.