Gillette and Campbell County have the support of state government in the aftermath of Blackjewel LLC shutting down the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, leaving hundreds of people out of work.
That was the message Gov. Mark Gordon had for local officials and residents as he spoke Tuesday afternoon in the commission chambers.
“What a devastating set of circumstances, what a difficult time, but I’m proud of Wyoming,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that we came together in a difficult time.
“I think we’re all hopeful that things can be a little brighter in a couple of days’ time. But just so you know, hope isn’t a plan for this administration.”
Robin Cooley, director of Wyoming Workforce Services, said the agency’s Gillette office had 160 people come through by 4 p.m. Monday.
“It’s a difficult circumstance, but I want you to know Workforce Services is in your community, has a plan and is actively working,” she said.
She’s bringing in three people to Gillette to help the recently unemployed. They’ll provide information to help people with unemployment and insurance claims, as well as developing a résumé and preparing for an interview.
Rick Mansheim, manager of the Gillette office of Workforce Services, said his office averaged 70 people there at a time Tuesday.
County Commissioner D.G. Reardon asked if workers would be allowed to file for unemployment even if it they technically weren’t laid off but told to go home. Mansheim said they’d be able to.
“The gates are locked, they can’t go to work. We feel like we should allow them to file,” he said, adding that it’s not just coal miners who are invited to go to Workforce Services, but others who’ve been impacted by the lockout, like mine contractors and other support businesses.
Todd Parfitt, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the two mines were evaluated Tuesday morning to “ensure we don’t have any immediate risks or health issues associated with the mine not being manned at this time.”
Sheriff Scott Matheny said workers won’t be allowed back on the mine site to pick up their belongings until he knows that it’s safe.
“Right now, security is the most important thing,” he said. “We’re not letting anybody on until we hear from someone else that it’s OK. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that’s the position that we took.”
Gordon reiterated that Gillette won’t be alone during this time.
“You power the nation,” he said. “We stand behind and beside you.”
Delegation weighs in
The Cowboy State’s senior U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican and former mayor of Gillette, returned to the Energy Capital of the Nation on Tuesday.
“Diana and I were devastated to learn about the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines layoffs,” he said in a statement. “We send our heartfelt sympathies to everyone impacted by this horrible news.”
While unexpected, Wyoming residents are resilient and will respond well, he said.
“This kind of unexpected, mass layoff does not benefit anyone,” Enzi said. “It immediately affects our families, friends and neighbors in very real ways. It ripples through our communities, our state and our economy. This is not the first time we have faced such heartbreaking news, but I am always amazed by the strength of our community to help those in need.”
He pledged to help Gordon and other lawmakers “to fight for the best possible outcome for our Wyoming workers and our community.”
State Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, called the news “devastating for the individuals and families affected, as well as for our entire state.”