Judge allows Peabody Energy to pay property taxes

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A judge on Wednesday agreed to let Peabody Energy Corp. go ahead and pay nearly $30 million in property taxes in four states while the coal company goes through bankruptcy reorganization.

The decision in federal court in St. Louis should help end uncertainty for communities in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Indiana.

St. Louis-based Peabody has at least six mines in Indiana that employ more than 1,250 workers, according to the company's website, including Bear Run Mine in Sullivan County, the largest surface mine in the eastern United States.

According to the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, Peabody Coal owes Sullivan County about $900,000 in property taxes. That bill could climb to about $2 million by the end of the year.

Others affected by missed property taxes include a Colorado school district, which lost out on about $1 million due in June. Colorado education officials agreed to loan the South Routt School District money and put up state funding to cover the shortfall.

The northwest Colorado district is home to the Twentymile Mine, which last year produced 3.2 million tons of coal.

"I'm very excited about this good news, but I'm very cautiously optimistic," Superintendent Darci Mohr said Wednesday, adding she hoped the county would be paid soon.

Peabody, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, owes Routt County a total of $1.7 million in delinquent taxes. The coal company asked earlier this month to go ahead and pay its local taxes to correct such shortfalls.

Peabody began talking to county treasurers Wednesday about making the payments, company spokeswoman Beth Sutton said by email. "Peabody appreciates the continued support from our stakeholders as we work through the Chapter 11 process to emerge stronger on the other side," Sutton said in a written statement.

The property tax payments should also help Campbell County, Wyoming, where Peabody has three open-pit mines and owes about $1.8 million in property and land taxes for 2015. In Wyoming, missed property tax payments, even big ones like Peabody's, have relatively little effect on public schools because the state funds districts on a per-pupil basis.

Lost revenue from stalled coal leasing, which began a few years ago and will continue under a three-year federal coal-lease moratorium, will cost Wyoming's school construction account more than $700 million by the decade's end, however.

Peabody's North Antelope Rochelle Mine in Campbell County produced almost 118 million tons in 2014 and was the nation's top-producing coal mine.

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