HELPER, Carbon County — Another blow for workers at the Willow Creek Mine near Price with the announcement that 319 employees were laid off Wednesday.
Mine spokesman Mike Dmitrich, who is also a state senator, said the temporary layoffs will enable employees to collect unemployment payments while officials decide the fate of the mine. Dmitrich said RAG American Coal Holding, Inc., the company that owns Willow Creek, will pay for the workers' health insurance until a final determination is made on the mine's future.
During a meeting Wednesday between the mine's bosses and its workers, Dmitrich said the question on everyone's mind was when and if the mine would reopen.
"Nobody really knows," he said. "It's unpredictable."
Dmitrich said RAG will not decide on the mine's future until the Mine Safety and Health Administration completes its investigation. He said that could take a couple of months.
"We're not sure if the fire is out," said Dmitrich, adding that the mine remains sealed shut.
If a decision is made to close the mine permanently, the company said it will offer severance at that time.
Dmitrich said the layoffs are a blow to a community already reeling from the July 31 explosion and fire that killed two workers and hospitalized eight others.
"It's a sad day for Carbon and Emery Counties," said Dmitrich.
County officials said the layoffs are an economic blow to all the residents in the area, not just miners.
Jeff Thredgold, economic consultant for Zion's Bank, said the layoffs will have a trickle-down effect.
"You're going to think twice about buying a new truck or going to the movies. There will be a noticeable decline in consumer spending," said Thredgold.
The fear of the unknown, according to Thredgold, will be the biggest strain on residents.