By Drew Taylor
May 3, 2018 - The humming of mine ventilation shafts in Brookwood, Alabama couldn’t drown out the praise for a new economic development in the coal industry.
On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey visited Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood to commemorate the completion of a new portal facility on the company’s No. 7 mine. The portal, which was completed for $19 million over the course of three years, is now being worked by 350 hourly miners and 150 salaried employees.
For Ivey, the celebration was about more than just a new facility; it was an opportunity to celebrate a company that has hired more than 1,000 people in the area during the past 18 months. The company is still looking to hire more people during the next year or so.
“Today reflects a commitment to not only grow a business, but to grow a community and a state as well,” Ivey said. “That’s real commitment and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The portal facility eliminates 5.1 miles of travel underground each way for miners and is 45 minutes closer to the sections in the north part of the compound. The 33,000-square foot portal features a bathhouse, two kitchen areas, 40 offices and training rooms and a hoist system with a 40-ton capacity.
Walter Scheller, CEO of Warrior, said the state’s quality of coal in the Blue Creek seam is what drives the ability for the mines to be profitable in the metallurgical coal market, a big reason why the company has invested substantial amounts of money into the mines.
“There’s very high quality coal that is desirable by steel makers around the world,” Scheller said. “It drives our ability to do very well.”
State Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, said what struck him the most about the newest addition to Warrior is how the portal will ultimately serve as an investment in its employees.
“It’s (designed) to get them to their work easier,” Wingo said. “This is them stepping out and taking care of their employees. I’m proud that this will get their people in and out of the mines faster.”
Brookwood has relied on coal mining for generations. However, the community has been affected by the challenges the coal industry has faced across the United States. Through the years, Walter Energy, the previous owners of Warrior’s No. 4 and 7 mines, laid off many of its miners in Brookwood, going from about 1,000 in 2015 to only a few hundred as of 2016.
That same year, Warrior bought out Walter Energy, taking Brookwood’s mines with them. Now, the company has more than 1,000 employees and is still hiring.
“I think the families in the area have known we have been trying to get experienced miners back in the field,” Scheller said.
Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, said Warrior’s investment in the community is indicative of the coal industry’s resurgence in Alabama. According to an economic impact study commissioned by the Energy Institute of Alabama, the state ranked 14th in total coal production across the United States in 2017.
“With them making such a large investment, that’s a sign they anticipate a strong met coal market in the coming years,” Cagle said. “That’s positive for Alabama.”
Rich Wingo and Gerald Allen, members of the Tuscaloosa area delegation to Montgomery, speak with CEO Walt Scheller.
Photo by Gary Cosby, Jr., Tuscaloosa News
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