Kameron Collieries is closing Donkin Mine, leaving an estimated 150 people without a job.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” said an employee who wished to stay anonymous. “One hundred and fifty people lost their jobs, good-paying jobs with good pensions. It’s going to affect the whole economy here. It’s going to hurt.”
The employee said everyone was being brought in by groups of five Monday — to stay within guidelines of the Public Health Act due to the COVID-19 crisis — and being told the news. Workers were outfitted with face masks and gloves when entering the mine.
Paul McEachern, a spokesperson for Kameron Collieries, confirmed the news Monday.
“It will cease in production of coal,” he said, adding the mine will be maintained by a handful of staff. “It’s not for sale.”
McEachern said the decision to cease operations was only due to the adverse geologic conditions in the mine.
“The geology is just very, very challenging,” he said. “It’s not a decision they wanted and it’s not a decision they took lightly and it’s a decision they took a long, hard look at.”
McEachern said the mine will not be sealed but maintained by the small staff to ventilate and keep the facility dewatered.
Although he didn’t have an exact total of staff employed there he described numbers as 'north of 100.’
“There will be a small staff kept on maintaining the basics of the mine, to ensure water is kept out of the mine, ventilation is kept operating and equipment on site is maintained,” he said.
“I can definitively say though; the mine will not be producing coal. It’s basically in a period of suspended animation. There’s no suggestion at this point of a return to production.”
Donkin Mine timeline:
- In 2014 and early 2015, Cline Group LLC gained full control of the Donkin Mine after purchasing a 75 per cent majority stake in the operation from Glencore Xstrata PLC and 25 per cent interest from Morien Resources Corp.
- Donkin Mine celebrated its first anniversary of coal production in February 2017.
- As of the fall of 2019, Donkin Mine had an estimated 150 employees.
- As of February 2020, there had been 12 roof falls reported at Donkin Mine since 2017.
- On March 30, Kameron Collieries announced they would be ceasing operations at the mine but would be keeping a few employees on to maintain it.
McEachern said the company is deeply disappointed these circumstances compelled them to make this decision and wishes to thank its dedicated workforce and the local community who supported this important investment in the region.
When asked about the enormous financial loss due to the rockfall issues the past year, McEachern said he doesn’t know anything about the finances but added its public record that the mine was a substantial investment.
The mine has been plagued with rockfalls the past couple of years. The latest roof fall in the tailgate section of the mine on Feb. 13, was the 12th rockfall since 2017. Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour then suspended operations at the coal mine pending an assessment of conditions and proposed remediation plans. No one was injured in the roof fall.
Another employee who has worked for the company since almost the beginning said he was devastated when informed Monday. The employee said the rockfalls worried all the workers knowing the challenges facing the company. The worker said he loved working there and even more so after meeting the now late owner Chris Cline, who he described as ‘like one of the boys.’
“The way he walked around here, you’d have no idea who he was,” the worker said. “I don’t blame the company for their decision, I don’t think they had a choice. It’s a major blow to my family though. I have a new home, children and there’s no opportunities out there….nothing…zilch. Then at the same time, we’re facing the COVID-19. It’s all too much.”
Nova Scotia business minister Geoff MacLellan received a call late Sunday night by decision makers associated with the Cline family in the U.S.
“They wanted to express the emotional sad news of the mine closing,” he said. “They wanted me to hear it first because of my connection professionally and emotionally to the mine. I had a conversation with the premier, so he knew as well.”
MacLellan said the news comes at a time when the province is dealing with an economic and safety crisis.
Although it’s not clear the exact total who worked there as there had been recent layoffs, MacLellan believed it might be around 130. However, when you look at workers dealing with service operators and supplies at the mine and so on, it’s easily double that in his opinion.
MacLellan said the stabilizing force the Donkin Mine gave when it came a few years ago in terms of the massive amounts of money to build up the mine to where it is today, was a local contribution.
“We’ve seen a stability in the Cape Breton economy in the recent years, population in the right direction, employment numbers in the right direction,” he said. “Donkin Mine was one of the critical pieces of that, that has now been halted.”
What comes of Donkin Mine now, MacLellan said the future is difficult to predict. MacLellan said this was a committed operator that has decided to cease operations.
When the global economy recovers, MacLellan said everyone anticipates there will be a pent-up demand for energy. However, MacLellan said there will still be a necessity for coal prices to recover on the world market, is still going to be those geological issues that are challenging for this mine seam as they get to the next phase of production.
“Hope isn’t lost entirely, we’ll see what happens as we get to that economic recovery stage and I’ll be involved in all of those conversations,” he said.
“We’ve had a committed operator and investor in the Cline family and now that’s certainly in peril.”