Officials say mine project like no other
by James Phillips
May 06, 2012 | 3492 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Walter Energy announced last week that it would make a more than $1 billion investment to develop a new, underground metallurgical coal mine in northern Tuscaloosa County that will create 530 mining jobs once construction the mine is finished.

Local officials expect the Blue Creek Energy Project will bring millions of dollars to Walker County through a variety of ways.

“In my 17 years, I’ve never dealt with a project that has an investment of over $1 billion,” said David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Economic and Industrial Development Authority (WCEIDA). “There is no comparison with other projects in this area.”

The mine will be located in Tuscaloosa County near Brandon School Road and Highway 69 North. The location is 13 miles from Oakman and 24 miles from Jasper.

“This is an easy commute for anyone in Walker County,” Knight said.

Jobs at the mine are expected to have an average salary of $90,000 ($120,000 including benefits), and the project is expected to last 40 years.

“Someone could come out of high school and make a career out of this mine,” Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper) said.

Knight estimated that more than 200 Walker County residents could end up working full-time at the mine once it is operational.

Construction of the mine is expected to begin in late 2012 and is estimated to take five years. The construction phase could mean as many as 3,000 new jobs statewide with earnings exceeding $700 million for those construction jobs, according to numbers released by the WCEIDA.

“Many of those construction jobs will be filled by people from Walker County,” Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said. “Our focus was on bringing permanent jobs to the area, but the five-year construction period will also bring a lot of jobs to the area for local workers.”

The project will include a barge loading facility in Walker County with Walter Energy investing about $70 million creating the facility, as well as the conveyer belt linking it to the mine in Tuscaloosa County.

Officials with Walter Energy, one of the nation’s leading coal producers, chose Alabama over a site in British Columbia, Canada.

In February, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill creating tax incentives for industries like Walter Energy. The measure, sponsored by Roberts in the House and Reed in the Senate, included the coal industry in a list of tax incentives offered to manufacturing companies.

The measure allows coal companies to apply for abatements on sales, use, mortgage, deed and non-educational property taxes. The provision also includes a 5 percent income tax credit for companies that invest beyond $1 million in the coal industry, referred to as an income tax capital credit.

Roberts and Reed said the legislation was a direct attempt to bring the mine to Alabama.

“All indications show the incentives played a significant difference in the decision to bring the mine to Alabama,” Roberts said. “Many had already conceded the project would go to Canada.”

Knight said the legislation may also be incentive for more mines to move forward soon.

“There is a two-year window that may encourage other companies to move up their timelines,” he said.

Knight said Walter Energy will be applying to the Walker County Development Authority for an abatement of the noneducational property, sales and use taxes for the barge loading facility. The estimated amount of sales and use taxes eligible for abatement is $1.4 million, while the estimated amount of sales and use taxes due to Walker County for educational purposes is also $1.4 million.

The estimated total amount of property taxes eligible for abatement is just more than $1 million over the 10-year maximum exemption period, while the estimated amount of property taxes due to Walker County for educational purposes is $945,000.

“We take coal mining for granted here, but it has long been the lifeblood of this county,” Roberts said.

“This project will make sure coal mining continues to be strong here for a long time to come.”