As Blackjewel LLC coal miners begin their third week locked out of the company’s dozens of mines in Wyoming, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, many are running out of patience and time waiting for the company to resume operations.
About 1,700 employees have been laid off since Blackjewel abruptly announced it was out of money and shut down its mines and sent workers home July 1. That includes nearly 600 from its flagship Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Campbell County.
After a first week of events that played out more like a soap opera than a bankruptcy proceeding, Blackjewel workers have been watching from the sidelines as the company had $20 million worth of emergency financing pulled, then a coup from creditors that forced out former president and CEO Jeff Hoops Sr.
Since then, Blackjewel’s new leadership and reorganization team has been reassuring employees that it’s No. 1 goal is to secure financing to reopen its mines and continue a Chapter 11 reorganization.
Although the next hearing with the U.S. Bankruptcy court isn’t scheduled until July 31, Blackjewel has said it wants to resolve its financial issues before then. In the meantime, it has about $2 million left of a $5 million post-petition loan it secured July 3. A condition of the financing was Hoops’ resignation.
The money is being used to provide security and necessary maintenance at mines.
In a status report filed Monday afternoon, Blackjewel says it’s been in discussions with one of its pre-petition secured lenders, Riverstone Credit Partners, and others to get the money to reopen.
“These efforts are ongoing, but have not yet produced a final agreement,” the status report says. Blackjewel “and their advisors will continue to pursue all reasonable alternatives for financing and will continue to keep the court and interested parties informed.”
The company also promises another update by Wednesday.
Too little too late?
While Blackjewel continues to work on securing the money necessary to finance its Chapter 11 process, its workers are struggling. None of the Wyoming employees have been paid since their June 28 payday, while about 1,100 eastern workers haven’t had a paycheck since July 14. The paychecks they were given June 28 bounced.
Those bounced paychecks, along with no guarantee of if or when they could be called back to work, has many families facing financial ruin. Some have filed letters with the bankruptcy court pleading for help to get what’s owed to them.
In a letter filed with the court Monday, Scotty Cox of Evarts, Kentucky, begs for relief.
“My last payroll check bounced, causing all my bills that are due to be returned and are now past due,” he wrote. “I am due a two-week paycheck this Friday, July 12, which I don’t expect to receive.
“This has caused my family a terrible hardship. We have no income, all our bills are due or are now past due. My family is so scared we don’t know what to do. … We are in danger of losing our home and our car. This is the worst thing that could have happened.”
He also said all he wants is to be paid and go back to work.
“I have a wife, a 5-year-old son and a 10-month old daughter,” his letter concludes. “Please, we beg you to help us any way possible.”
Most of Blackjewel’s employees have been networking through a Facebook group started by Wyoming miners called Blackjewel Employees Stand Together. As time goes on, more are reporting they’re finding other jobs or have given up on Blackjewel being able to reopen its mines in time for them to return before having to accept jobs elsewhere.
Chase Patterson was one of the Wyoming Blackjewel workers locked out, and while he was hoping to return to work, he said last week he wasn’t holding out much hope the longer the lockout drags on.
“I need the stability,” he said about knowing where his next paycheck is coming from. “I can’t handle not knowing what’s going to happen each week. … Even though it’s rocked us, it’s forced us to look at other options, which isn’t a bad thing.”
He said the real question will be how many qualified, trained workers will go back whenever the mines can reopen.
“How many other core people are leaving?” he said. “I’ve talked with a lot of them and they said they’re leaving and not coming back.”
Parenthood and Campbell County’s ranching heritage are just two of the themes represented at the Campbell County Cemetery District’s second annual sculpture walk and artist reception Saturday.
This year’s selection of pieces includes nine sculptures by eight artists, and the district invites the community to see them and talk with the artists at the Inspiration Garden Shelter at Mount Pisgah Cemetery from 2-4 p.m. Saturday.
Local artist Tom Ford is a consultant for the district and said this year’s crop of sculptures is “very well-represented” by artists from around the region, including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota and Arizona.
Ford said he tries to find pieces that will fit in with the gardens while representing Campbell County well.
This year’s group of sculptures include Western and spiritual themes, as well as some more “out of the box” messages, Ford said.
“We feel like we’ve had a good reception from the public over the year,” said Sexton Darin Edmonds. “I don’t see how anyone can get upset about what we’ve got this year. It’s very tasteful artwork.”
“Gibson,” a work by Colorado’s Wayne Salge, shows a long-legged man strumming a six-string while a father bends down to tie his son’s shoe in Jane DeDecker’s “The Ties that Bind.”
Tom Butler, chairman of the sculpture committee, said “Climb as High as Your Dreams” by Wyoming native Chris Navarro is his favorite piece of the nine.
“I don’t know why it stands out to me, it just does,” he said of the sculpture, which depicts a young man in mid-climb. “It’s just spectacular.”
The nine sculptures on display also are available to buy. The artists will receive a stipend over the next year while the sculptures are on display. If they remain unsold, they will be replaced a year from now with other sculptures in the program.
Ford said the Cemetery District has partnered with the Mayor’s Art Council, so that if a sculpture is unsold, the Mayor’s Art Council can select it for its own sculpture program if it chooses.
Cemetery staff and board members learned a few things from last year’s sculpture walk, including just how much walking people had to do.
“It’s a long walk,” Edmonds said, adding that there’s quite an elevation change and it was 96 degrees that day last year. “We had our golf cart, trying to pick people up.”
The golf cart could carry three people at most, he said.
This year, they had a wagon built that can hold about 20 people at a time, Edmonds said. It will run a continuous loop throughout the cemetery.
Ice Cream Café will be there as well serving free ice cream.
“If the kids just want to ride the wagon and eat the ice cream, that’s fine,” he said. “We just want people to come out, enjoy the day and see some nice sculptures along the way.”
Nearly three weeks after a devastating motorcycle crash left Deven Dulany with badly broken legs, arms and internal injuries, the Gillette 20-year-old has died.
Dulany had been receiving emergency treatment and care at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, that included amputating part of his left leg and numerous surgeries.
Dulany had been showing some small gains, including moving his arms and right leg some and communicating with friends and family, but his condition worsened over a couple of days before his death and he developed an infection, said Cori McCue, a former Gillette resident and cousin who had been updating a public CaringBridge journal of Dulany’s progress.
She said she’s proud of how hard Dulany fought, and his toughness and determination showed in how he lived for nearly three weeks after the June 25 crash with injuries that doctors said would’ve killed most anybody else instantly.
“They said if he wasn’t as young and strong as he was, he wouldn’t have even made it (this far),” McCue said. “He fought really hard.”
She said her cousin was peaceful and not in pain when he died overnight Sunday surrounded by friends and family. She also said an outpouring of support from the Gillette community inspired him to fight.
“We are so thankful for that,” McCue said. “We couldn’t have done this without everybody and we firmly believe Deven hung on as long as he did and fought as hard as he did because of all the amazing support and good wishes he got from everybody. All the prayers have been so appreciated.”
She said her cousin broke “just about every bone in his body” when the motorcycle he was riding at high speed crashed into a 2005 Chevy Malibu on Boxelder Road. The 50-year-old driver of the Malibu was ticketed for driving with a suspended license and for having no proof of insurance.
Dulany was a 2018 graduate of Thunder Basin High School, a member of the Gillette school’s first graduating class after it opened in August 2017.
Although he didn’t grow up in a traditional home environment, McCue said he “beat the odds” by working hard and having a strong inner drive to succeed.
“Deven was determined in everything he did,” she said. “He played every sport imaginable. He didn’t come from a typical household and he was still successful.
“No silver spoon in this kid’s mouth, and he was just phenomenal in whatever he did.”
A GoFundMe page was set up after Dulany’s crash at gofundme.com/devens-medical-fund, which is tied to a benefit account at Campco Federal Credit Union in Gillette.
As of Tuesday morning, the crowdfunding effort has raised $7,036 of a $10,000 goal. McCue said the money raised had been earmarked to help with medical expenses, but now will be used to cover funeral costs. Anyone who wants to contribute but doesn’t want to do so online can send donations directly to Campco, attention “Deven’s Medical Fund.”