Once the shaft is completed next year, it is expected to improve efficiency and safety, decreasing the company’s operating costs in the process. Not only will the new shaft near Bruceville cut the amount of time miners typically spend traveling underground to their job site, it also will lessen the amount of time needed to transport miners to a hospital. According to Sunrise, the new shaft should reduce transport times by about a half hour.

The planning commission’s decision did not come without opposition, however. Several residents near the proposed shaft said they were concerned about possible increased traffic on the narrow roads and asked the commission to deny Sunrise’s request.

Supporters of the project, including county economic development officials, stressed that coal mining is an important economic contributor to the southwestern Indiana county, accounting for more jobs than all other employers except for the local hospital. They feared a denial of the request could have affected the continued operation of the Oaktown Nos. 1 and 2 continuous miner operations, although the company never threatened to close the mines if its application was not approved.

The Oaktown mines produced about 4 million tons of steam coal in the first nine months of 2016 and are expected to produce in excess of 5 million tons for the entire year. Their combined 2015 output was 5.6 million tons and they have about 580 employees.