A conveyor brings coal up from an underground mine at Knight Hawk Coal’s Prairie Eagle operation.

A few Southern Illinois towns are feeling the effects of a mine shutting down in Kentucky.

On Monday, the Patriot Coal Corporation idled its Highland Mine and Dodge Hill Mining Complex, located in Union County, Kentucky.

The mines employ about 670 workers and produced about 3.9 million tons of thermal coal this past year as a result of the difficult coal markets, said Janine Orf, spokeswoman for Patriot Coal.

Gallatin, Hardin and Saline counties in Southern Illinois are all within an hour’s drive of Union County, Kentucky.

Saline County Board Member Joe Jackson said some residents made the commute to work in the mines.

He said he couldn’t be sure of the exact number of Saline County individuals who worked in the mines, but the shutdown isn’t a good thing for the region.

“Nobody ever has been able to put a dollar figure on the impact for the area,” Jackson said. “We just know it is a negative impact, and we hate to see it happen.”

The company's Heritage preparation plant, near Waverly, and the barge loading terminal on the Ohio River, at Uniontown, are expected to continue processing and shipping coal from on-site stockpiles.

Miners began receiving phone calls Sunday advising them to not report to work.

Jackson said the negative impact on Saline County is from regulations placed on coal mines by the government.

“We know that those places wouldn’t be closing if it wasn’t for (President) Obama and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the regulations on burning coal,” he said.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said while the shutdown does affect residents in his area, he is not sure how many people were impacted.

“I have no idea how many because I haven’t heard from anybody,” he said.

Phelps said although he hates to see Southern Illinois residents out of work, all he can do is encourage residents to apply at Franklin and Williamson county mines. He said those mines are actively hiring coal miners.

“If they need my help finding those jobs, they can contact me,” he said. “I have to worry about Illinois before I can worry about Kentucky.”

Patriot Coal issued a notice required by federal law that said a major layoff or shutdown could come within 60 days on Dec. 5.

The 400 hourly workers at the Highland Mine are represented by the United Mine Workers of America.

St. Louis-based Patriot Coal emerged from Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy reorganization one year ago, but its shares have yet to return to trading a major exchange such as the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq.

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Dustin Duncan is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Carbondale.

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