Crowd Greets Last Coal Train Out From Kentucky's Dotiki Mine
By Colby Girten
September 13, 2019 - In Kentucky, the area on South Broadway where the railroad tracks pass near downtown Providence was packed with people on both sides Thursday as they waited patiently in the heat for the last coal train from Dotiki Mine to move through.
There were miners, and family and friends of miners, all coming out to watch the train pass after the mine officially shut down production on Friday, Aug. 16.
It wasn't just another load of coal. The train represented five decades of operation for the Dotiki Mine and everything that meant to the surrounding community, especially Providence.
It was a heart-warming yet sad moment for most of those in attendance.
Lonnie Spurlin came with his family to view the train. Spurlin had recently been transferred to Warrior Coal in Hopkins County after the news of the shutdown.
"I worked at Dotiki for 11 years," said Spurlin. When asked how he felt about the shutdown, Spurlin responded, "I'm not happy about it at all. I don't think it's going to be good for the town. It's the one big thing Providence had. It's going to make people have to go a long way for work."
Among the families watching was the family of recently deceased coal miner Jeremy Elder.
Elder, age 39, had 15 years experience in the mines. According to Warrior Coal LLC, he died in an accident at Cardinal Mine near Madisonville last week.
"They had just moved that group (including Jeremy) over to Warrior Coal," said Violet Brooks, grandmother of Jeremy Elder, who was there to see the train Thursday. "His other brother that worked for Dotiki, Adam, switched over to Riverview."
"Jeremy wanted to stay with Dotiki because he was faithful to it till the very end," said his aunt, Debbie McIntyre.
Elder's parents were also at the railroad to view the train passing. "The mines have been good to us, and they were good to my son," said Elder's mother, Loretta Elder.
Loretta Elder told The Gleaner Thursday that her son loved working in the mines for Dotiki.
"The mines were a substantial part of our community. He was the sweetest soul. We have heard so many stories of how he impacted lives while underground and above ground. People have told us stories about how he changed their whole life."
"Over a thousand people attended his funeral," said Terry Elder, Jeremy's father.
The impact of livelihoods and families centered around mining was apparent on the faces of the many people who came out to see the last coal train passing by Providence.
Family members of current miners were also in attendance.
Amber Wyatt came to watch the train go by for her husband, Dwayne Wyatt, a Dotiki miner. She expressed thanks that miners from Dotiki were getting transfers to other mining operations.
But there was still uncertainty.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen after all this; all you can do is pray about it. Pray for our miners."
Barbara Knight drove up to the railroad tracks to watch the train pass for her son-in-law who works at the prep plant where coal is loaded. "I hate it with a passion," said Knight about the closing of the Dotiki Mine. "It's a livelihood here, and it has been for a very long time. We are a small town, and unfortunately we don't have a whole lot here; but I think we will be OK."
Stephanie Cross Norman, along with other members of her family, had many years dedicated to the coal mines. Norman worked there for 38 years. She was just recently transferred to Riverview Coal in Waverly.
"We became like a family. It wasn't as big, so everyone knew each other," said Norman about the Dotiki coal workers.
Norman also believes that the mine shutting down will hit the nearby communities hard.
"There's already nothing much here anyway. A lot of people that come through Providence to the mines, they would stop at all the stores — so it's going to hurt. I'm going to miss it and all the people."
The last coal train passed through Providence right around 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
On the front of the train was a sign in dedication to Dotiki miners and those that had passed away. The train blew its horn many times as it passed by in memory of Jeremy Elder and all fallen miners.
The family of Elder (including his wife, Kristi, and their children) and several miners took pictures on the front of the train as it stopped at South Broadway. The sign was then removed, and the coal train passed on through Providence for the final time.
The Dotiki Mine complex, owned by Alliance Resource Partners, has been been the central pillar of the economy in Webster County and the surrounding region for half a century.
A 2016 National Public Radio story about coal production in the U.S. cited the difficult work done by workers at Dotiki, but also reported that many of the miners there routinely pulled in pay of $100,000 and above yearly.
Steve Henry, Webster County judge-executive, told The Gleaner for a recent story that the county will continue to look ahead.
"I can say that no matter what happens we are dedicated to making Webster County a community that is open for business. We feel that the I-69 corridor will bring lots of opportunities."
"Dotiki Mine has been a major employer for Webster County for over 50 years. While we would like to have had them producing coal for 50 more, we realize that the coal market has made that unprofitable to continue," Henry said. "I am thankful that employees have an option to continue working (at other locations). Alliance coal has been a huge supporter of this community and I have been assured that will continue. While this will have a negative effect on our tax revenue, we had already been making changes to our budget over the last two years in anticipation of production ceasing.
"By doing so, our goal was to ensure the loss would not cause disruption of vital services to our residents. I commend the magistrates for that forward-thinking. We are still working to bring more economic opportunities to Webster County and we feel that those efforts will begin to bear fruit in the near future. At the same time I urge people to continue to support their local businesses. That will have the greatest impact."
The Dotiki underground mine complex is located near the city of Providence in Webster County, a city which has the silhouette of a miner on its logo and a life-size statue of a miner located in downtown.
The facility employed roughly 200 personnel and is operated by Alliance Resource Partner's subsidiary, Webster County Coal LLC.
When the Dotiki Mine shutdown was announced in early August, a statement from ARP said the closure was being carried out "in order to focus on maximizing production at its lower-cost mines in the Illinois Basin. After production ceases, the operation will engage in reclamation of equipment and infrastructure for an indeterminate time."
"Unfortunately, weak market conditions made this action necessary," said Joseph W. Craft III, chairman, president and chief executive officer of ARP. "We are saddened that production will be ending at the Dotiki Mine, which was opened in 1969 and was the oldest mine operated by ARLP."
Dotiki utilized continuous mining units employing room-and-pillar mining techniques to produce high-sulfur coal. Dotiki’s preparation plant had a throughput capacity of 1,800 tons of raw coal per hour.
Dotiki's workers produced 2.5 million tons of coal in 2018.