The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 14, 2011

Affinity mine reopens with fanfare

A crowd including acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gathered Wednesday near Sophia to celebrate the rebirth of a mine that had sat idle since 1985.

The mine, which first opened in 1951, has seen its share of ups and downs, according to Sophia Mayor Danny Barr. He said the mine closed several times throughout the years due to varying circumstances, one being the import of foreign oil.

But after being closed for 26 years, Affinity Coal Co. LLC is bringing it back to life due to the collaborative efforts of Metinvest and United Coal Co.

The project was made possible through a $111 million investment by Metinvest, the leading mining and steel industry company within the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Ukraine.

Speaking at the opening, Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said, “We are here today to dedicate the new Affinity mine and bring it back to life after a long number of years of idleness. It is such a tremendous investment. More than $100 million dollars have been invested into the property, 250 people will work here directly and these West Virginia coal miners are going to send this coal all over the world.

“Now, because of technology, it is allowing miners to extract coal they didn’t think was possible 20 years ago. So this is all brand new and state of the art.”

The mine is predicted to produce 1.4 million tons of high-quality metallurgical coal annually, generate $11 million in annual severance tax revenues and employ more than 250 well-compensated miners and administrative staff.

Wednesday marked the official commencement of operations with the loading of the first coal train. This high-quality coal will be shipped domestically and internationally, Raney explained.

“So you’ve got the best coal miners in the world sending the best coal in the world,” he said. “We are happy to be here today to meet with the advisory board of Metinvest. This is a group that had a vision and the confidence and the faith in West Virginia to bring this property back to life. This is a great day for West Virginia, and it is good for several reasons.”

Mayor Barr said Sophia is already seeing the benefits of the new mine.

“The economy of Sophia is already going up. We’ve got houses, they are building new homes, new businesses are coming in, there is a demand on rental properties and downtown is being revitalized, so anything that is good for Sophia is good for Raleigh County and is good for state,” he said.

Metinvest, the parent company of United Coal, is the 10th largest vertically integrated steel producer in the world, with production operations in Ukraine, Italy, United Kingdom and Bulgaria, and sells its steel to 75 countries worldwide.

Michael Zervos, president and chief executive officer of United Coal, shared his plans for another mining operation in Randolph County similar to the one revealed Wednesday.

Metallurgical coal is processed into coke, an essential raw material used to produce high-quality steel. The quality of coal in the region, its availability for export and the volatility of the international metallurgical coal market are key factors in Metinvest’s long-term commitment to United Coal and the West Virginia economy, he said, so a long-term relationship is expected with future plans already in the works.

“That is our next big project. It will be a coal mine that will produce about two million tons a year and employ 250 direct employees and 1,500 indirect employees,” he explained.

“To Sophia, this is a great big deal because when you add that amount of jobs to one area, it is a good thing. The mayor said business is thriving, houses are selling, but most importantly there are jobs where there weren’t jobs before. So we are very proud that we could come in and help the local economy,” he said.

Combining those statistics with the fact that United Coal is the leading metallurgical coal producer within the central Appalachian basin, and by 2014, its subsidiaries will produce more than eight million tons of coal per year, the project is sure to be a success, officials said.

Approximately 85 percent of the coal mined will be high-quality metallurgical coal.

Others speaking at the ceremony expressed gratitude and excitement for the reborn mine.

Kelly Goes, state director for Sen. Joe Manchin, read a letter from the senator.

“(Manchin) also expressed the importance of being able to extract coal and the importance of using coal in our steel mills and our electric power plants,” Goes said. “We have the means to mine coal and safely and cleanly, and the use of that coal will contribute to the betterment of this state and our nation.”

Introduced as the steady sail in a stormy economic sea, Tomblin explained that the state closed out the fiscal year that ended June 30 with $330 million over tax estimates for the year.

“And the reason we are there,” he said, “is because of coal.”

— E-mail: kvanpelt@register-herald.com

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