State offers financing to attract mine buyer

Debra Landis

CARLINVILLE -- The Illinois Finance Authority has given preliminary approval to a financing proposal to help attract a buyer for the Monterey No. 1 Mine near here.

It remains uncertain whether that potential buyer could still be Pennsylvania-based Carlin Acquisitions or if the mine could remain open. Talks collapsed in late November between Monterey owner ExxonMobil and Carlin Acquisitions. After that, ExxonMobil announced it was closing the mine -- a move that will result in about 280 union miners and 70 other employees losing their jobs.

“We’re doing everything we can to help the Monterey No. 1 Mine find a buyer. We hope that the financing offered by the IFA will help lead to a solution that takes into account the jobs and livelihood of hundreds of families who depend on the Monterey mine,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in a news release.

In a letter to ExxonMobil’s CEO earlier this month, Blagojevich asked the corporation to consider keeping the mine ventilated and equipment in place until a buyer can be found.

The Illinois Finance Authority is a self-financed state authority that issues taxable and tax-exempt bonds, makes loans, and invests capital for businesses, non-profit corporations, agriculture and local government units statewide. The financing proposal that received preliminary approval from the IFA would provide access to borrowed funds to help with the purchase.

Exxon “has confirmed that they plan to keep the mine ventilated and leave the primary mining equipment in place to support marketing efforts,” according to Blagojevich’s press office. However, Exxon also said its plans are subject to the ability “to maintain safe conditions underground and resolve union related matters,” the office said.

ExxonMobil spokeswoman Margaret Ross declined comment Wednesday when asked if the mine is being ventilated and if so, for how long.

“There is no new information to report about the Monterey Coal Company mine. We deeply regret the impact of the mine closure on our employees and their families,” Ross said in an e-mailed statement. “We have been part of the Carlinville community for over 35 years and believe in its ongoing economic vitality. The mine’s excellent workforce will bring valuable skill sets to other employers.”

State Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlnville, has said Carlin Acquisitions remains interested in buying Monterey.

“The actions of the governor and the IFA show how important the mining industry is to Macoupin County and all of Illinois. We will continue to fight to keep Monterey open until all possible efforts have been exhausted,” Demuzio said. “All parties, state and local, have really come together to work in a concerted effort toward a positive outcome to this situation.”

Donnie Stewart, United Mine Workers of America Monterey local president, said the UMWA wants jobs for its members.

“I’d love to see Monterey remain open,” he said.

Stewart said he sees various issues facing a new owner, including availability of mining equipment and where future digging would occur. The UMWA and ExxonMobil haven’t yet settled on details regarding remaining work at Monterey, he said.

UMWA officials have said contract language covers work union employees would do in the event of a mine closure. Earlier this month, Stewart said he was told ExxonMobil intended to use contractors or company managers to load coal trains and do other work the UMWA believes it should be able to do.