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United acquires met coal complex



SOPHIA, W.Va.

A demand for metallurgical coal has prompted one producer to buy a southern West Virginia mine that’s been closed since 1985 with plans to reopen it.

United Coal President and Chief Executive Michael Zervos said the reopening of the Affinity mine near Sophia in Raleigh County would create 254 mining jobs, and as many as 1,300 spinoff jobs. The company plans to spend $115 million to rehabilitate the former Eastern Associated Coal mine.

It’s one of two projects United Coal, which has operations in Letcher County, plans for West Virginia. The Register-Herald reports that United Coal plans to open a similar sized mine in Randolph County in 2013. That operation is expected to employ up to 300 miners.

The Affinity mine will be operated by Affinity Coal Co., and should be open next July. Eastern Associated closed the mine following a drop in the demand for met coal, which is used to produce steel.

Zervos said United Coal’s parent, Ukraine-based mining and steel producer Metinvest, has asked the producer to double its production. United Coal, which recently re-entered the coal business after withdrawing from it in 1997, now has operations at Sandlick and in Big Rock, Va.

The company has about 165 million tons of reserves and produces about 7.5 million tons annually. About 80 percent is met coal, according to the company’s website.

“About a year ago when our company United Coal was sold to Metinvest, that gave us a source of investment and they were very, very anxious to accelerate the opening of this mine,” Zervos told WSAZ-TV.

The mine has about 40 million tons of reserves and is expected to produce coal for the next 25 years.

Sophia Mayor Danny Barr said the mine has a history of opening and closing. The mine first opened in 1937 and then closed during the 1950s. It was reopened in the late 1960s before it was closed again in 1985.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Oct. 21.


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