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Deadline passes for bids on Walter Energy's Northeast B.C. mines

Supreme Court documents show as many as 82 potential bidders as of March.
Walter Energy's Wolverine mine near Tumbler Ridge.

A deadline to submit bids to purchase three mothballed Walter Energy mines in Northeast B.C. has come and gone. 

The final closing date on the auction of the mines is June 30, after which a buyer for the shutter mines could be announced.

According to a March 24 filing with the B.C. Supreme Court, there were as many as 82 potential bidders. The company has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The bid deadline could be extended by either the Supreme Court or the company in charge of restructuring the bankrupt miner's debt, BlueTree Advisors Inc.

While the global market for the steel-making coal found at at the three mines is still oversupplied, industry experts expect demand to bounce back.

"The sense out there is that (metallurgical coal)  prices are pretty close to bottoming out, if they haven't already," Robin Campbell, president of the Coal Association of Canada told the Dawson Creek Mirror. "Northeastern B.C. coal is a good quality coal and when markets come back there should be a demand for it. It would make sense for someone who is looking to the future to invest."

Mine workers represented by the United Steelworkers Local 1-424 (USW), who were laid off from the Wolverine mine in the spring of 2014, have been waiting for a resolution to a dispute over severance payments. The sale of the mines could indicate an end to their saga.

The USW represents 300 of the more than 700 workers affected by the closure of the three mines —Brule, Wolverine and Willow Creek — near Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge.

A spokesperson for the union was unable to offer comment when contacted. 

Outstanding claims from the workers include lost wages for 60 days between April and June 2015, and other payments they argue are owed to them. 

The USW won't be allowed to pursue a resolution to the dispute in court until June 24, when a court imposed ban on legal action against the company expires. The Supreme Court says the grace period was implemented to allow Walter Canada to restructure its debt.

Mining operations at Walter Energy's Willow Creek mine near Chetwynd ceased in 2013, putting nearly 250 out of work.

Two of the company's other mines in the Chetwynd/Tumbler Ridge area ceased operations in the spring of 2014, putting 700 workers out of a job.

Walter once employed over 1,000 people in Northeast B.C.

The remaining 19 employees kept at the mines for "administrative and security functions" are due to be laid off sometime between June 17 and August 9, according to filings with the Supreme Court.

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