By Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2021

AVERY ISLAND, La. (AP) - Cargill is permanently halting operations at a salt mine where a roof collapse in mid-December killed two workers, the company announced, and will close the site by 2024.

According to a statement issued Thursday by the company, Cargill was already planning to end operations at the Avery Island mine by the end of this year because the lease with Avery Island Inc. which owns the land, is ending at that time. The mine is one of three salt mines that Cargill operates around the country. The salt is used to keep roads free of ice during winter.

Eighteen people were working in the mine when the roof collapsed. Rescuers found the two victims the next day. They were identified as 27-year-old Lance Begnaud of Broussard and 41-year-old Rene Romero of New Iberia.

The company has not reopened the mine since the collapse. A spokesman for Cargill, Daniel Sullivan, told The Advocate, that the decision to close earlier than had been anticipated was due to a number of factors including how much time it would take to ramp up operations after the mine had already been closed for six weeks and low demand for road salt this year.

The company says it will take until 2024 to complete work to safely close the facility. The company said it is working with employees to provide support services. About 200 people work at the mine, The Advocate reported.

Cargill also owns a salt evaporating facility in Breaux Bridge but that is not affected by the closure announcement.

The salt mine has been in operation since the mid-1800s, according to the statement from Cargill. Avery Island Inc. owns it but Cargill has been operating it since 1997.

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