July 19, 2008

Steel-and-Coal Merger May Impact Future of Coalfields Expressway

By Charles Owens, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.

Jul. 19--GRUNDY, Va. -- A steel-and-coal merger with international economic ramifications also could have an impact on the construction of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia, officials said Friday.

Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said officials were keeping a close eye on the merger announced Wednes-day between Midwest iron ore pellet-maker Cleveland-Cliffs and the Southwest Virginia based coal-mining company Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha Natural Resources is one of two private coal company partners working with the Virginia Department of Transporta-tion in the development of the new four-lane corridor for Southwest Virginia.

"It does have an effect," Puckett said. "As of right now, we don't see any change in what we are doing right now. The problem is we don't know what will hold for the future with the partnership to build the Coalfields Expressway. We are basically going to be working with the Alpha people in the coal division of this new company. We still have coal in this corridor to mine. It should be mined."

The two coal companies are working with the state to help create the bed of the four-lane corridor while mining coal.

"Hopefully, we can keep the relationship going," Puckett said. "The other thing that concerns me a little bit about that -- Alpha Natural Resources has been a tremendous corporate citizen here in Southwest Virginia. They provided a lot of jobs for people in Southwest Virginia. And they help to provide the necessary fuel for our energy needs, and they do a good job in reclamation projects. You hate to lose a local corporation like that, that has had such a tremendous local impact."

Puckett said he recently spoke with representatives of Pioneer -- the second private partner company working with the state.

"I have talked to pioneer just lately, and I don't see any change in their commitment," Puckett said.

Puckett said officials will continue to monitor the merger and what impact it could have on the Coalfields Expressway.

"We will just have to wait and see, but the projects we have going on now are not in jeopardy," Puckett said.

The Coalfields Expressway, also known as U.S. Route 121, is a proposed four-lane highway stretching 51 miles from Pound in Wise County through Dickenson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia line. The West Virginia segment of the roadway will extend another 55 miles through McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties. Segments of the roadway are already under construction, or have been completed, in McDowell and Raleigh counties in neighboring West Virginia.

-- Contact Charles Owens at [email protected]


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