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Golden Sunlight Mine Near Whitehall Lays Off 140

Golden Sunlight Mine.
Courtesy Barrick Gold Corporation
Golden Sunlight Mine

Golden Sunlight Mine general manager, Daniel Banghart, says there's no good news to be had from his company’s announcement this week that 140 employees will be out of a job by the end of November.

"We've enjoyed incredible support out of not only our employees here, but incredible support from the community. Yeah, this is very unwelcome all the way around no matter how you slice it."

The layoffs primarily affect the Whitehall-area mine's open pit operations, maintenance and processing areas.

Thirty-four employees will stay on to support the mine's contract underground mining operations. Banghart says the job cuts are directly tied to the weak gold market.

"It's down some $700 from where it peaked a few years ago, so it puts that financial pressure on the operation when it goes in that direction."

Jefferson County Commissioner Leonard Wortman says the layoffs deliver a significant blow to the local economy.

"They are our largest taxpayer, so the trickle down from losing that many jobs is going to be huge to the economy - particularly to the south part of Jefferson County - and really all the other surrounding communities, too."

Wortman estimates the potential tax loss could exceed $1 million annually.

"We took a double hit really because the legislature shut down the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder; that was about 250 jobs, so there's been a pretty big impact this year in Jefferson County."

Commissioner Wortman says county officials are trying to develop new local business opportunities.

"Mines don't last forever, so we've been pretty proactive about trying to attract other business types. We have an industrial business park south of Whitehall that's been open for a couple of years. We've had quite a lot of interest in that. We've been talking to folks about the possibility of manufacturing and other stuff there that right now look fairly promising."

The layoff of about 140 people doesn't necessarily spell the end of the Golden Sunlight Mine, according to general manager Daniel Banghart.

"We certainly have a couple of years ahead of us for processing underground ore and we'll continue to evaluate extending that and see what the potential is there. these things are always based on what's happening with gold prices and what happens with successful drillings and evaluations down the road."

Banghart would not disclose terms of the employee severance packages, other than to say he believes most people would find them "attractive".

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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