- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska’s only working coal mine plans to halt exports for the rest of the year as the slow market has forced a temporary closure of its coal loading facility.

Usibelli has already cut workers at its Seward facility down to eight as exports slowed in the past year and additional layoffs are planned, according to the Alaska Dispatch News (https://bit.ly/1OubBC8).

Officials from Usibelli and subsidiary Aurora Energy Services met with employees Tuesday to discuss how to transition the facility into idle mode.

Aurora, which operates the facility on behalf of the Alaska Railroad, will maintain a small crew at the mine through the remainder of the winter into next year, said Rob Brown, general manager of Aurora and vice president of business development at its parent company.

“We’re keeping some of our crew in order to keep things maintained and have all the components in a ready state,” Brown said. “It’s a hard thing to see such great employees and good quality individuals have to go through this.”

Coal exports reached a peak in 2011 at 1.2 million tons for Usibelli. That was before South Korea implemented a tax on imported coal and a mine opened in Chile, which had been the company’s biggest foreign consumer.

By 2014, exports had fallen to less than half the level reached in 2011. This year, Usibelli has exported 150,000 tons to Japan. No shipments have gone to regular customers in Chile or South Korea.

“An oversupply of coal in the global market, as well as the strength of the U.S. dollar, has created less demand and a drop in price for Alaska coal,” Brown said.

The Usibelli mine also supplies coal to seven coal-fired power plants in Interior Alaska.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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