Whitesburg KY
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Coal firm lists office for sale

Ten weeks after idling its steam coal mining operations in eastern Kentucky, United Coal Co. has put its large office building in Letcher County up for sale.

Located on Big Blue Boulevard off KY 7 near Isom, the Sapphire Coal building was constructed shortly after the former Reading & Bates Corp., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas drilling company, bought Golden Oak Mining Co. from William B. Sturgill in January 1981.

The building, which has changed ownership at least three times since it was built, is being listed for sale for $450,000 by the The Mountain Real Estate Company of Hazard. An advertisement appearing in this week’s edition of The Mountain Eagle describes the structure as containing approximately 20 offices, six bathrooms and other amenities on nearly 10 acres of land.

The building was left mostly vacant earlier this summer after United Coal, a division of Ukrainebased Metinvest, shuttered its Sapphire Coal surface and underground mining operations in Letcher and Knott counties, including the remnants of a deep mine opened in the late 1950’s as South East Coal Co.’s Polly Mine. The closings resulted in the loss of at least 163 jobs.

Also closed was a large coal preparation plant at Camp Branch that was also built by Reading & Bates in the early 1980’s.

When Metinvest bought United Coal in Spring 2009, the company made no secret of the fact that it was more interested in acquiring the Blountville, Tenn.-based firm for its metallurgical coal holdings than it was for its steam coal reserves in eastern Kentucky.

Metinvest, which hails itself as one of the most profitable companies in the world, says one of its goals is to be able to mine all of the coal it uses in its steelmaking operations. United is now the sixth-largest producer of met coal in the U.S.

Metinvest is the latest of four different owners of the office building. William Sturgill became the building’s owner in 1988 when he reacquired Golden Oak Mining from Reading & Bates in late 1988. In October 2000, ownership of the building was transferred to Cook & Sons Mining of Letcher County when that firm acquired Golden Oak from Sturgill. United Coal assumed ownership of Cook & Sons — and the office building — in 2005.

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