Crown III’s fate was sealed in late October when Archer Daniels Midland, the Decatur, Ill.-based agribusiness giant, decided not to renew an expiring coal supply contract with Springfield after negotiating for months, stripping the mine of its largest customer. Springfield then notified the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity it planned to shutter Crown III less than a week before Christmas, laying off the mine’s nearly 200 employees.

In the end, Springfield lost out to a lower-cost Illinois rival, believed to be Christopher Cline’s Foresight Energy Partners, according to Steve Jones, a United Mine Workers of America official in Benton, Ill.

ADM spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said her company opted to buy coal from another Illinois coal producer, although she would not confirm if it was Foresight. Foresight, easily the fastest growing coal company in the entire Illinois Basin, including Illinois, operates four deep mines in the state, including three longwall operations.

The mines — Mach Mining No. 1, also known as Pond Creek; M-Class Mining’s MC No.1 mine; Hillsboro Mining’s Deer Run mine; and the Shay No. 1, essentially the former Monterey No.1 mine — are expected to produce a total of about 20 million tons in 2013. Their potential output, however, is much higher, perhaps more than double that amount in a few years if additional longwalls are installed at some of the mines.

Foresight officials could not be reached for comment.

Even though it resulted in a mine closing and major loss of jobs, Anderson defended her company’s decision. “We made an economic decision not to renew our contract with Crown III,” she said. “Like all businesses, we actively manage our costs. In the process of reviewing our coal supply options, we found other Illinois mines were substantially more competitive than the Crown III mine.”

The good news for Illinois coal, she maintained, was “we are able to continue powering our Illinois operations with coal from here in the state.”

For the embattled UMWA, once a powerhouse in Illinois, the news was disappointing. Crown III was the last remaining coal mine in the state affiliated with the more than century-old national industrial union. With Crown III’s apparent demise, the union’s only coal-related representations in Illinois are a coal preparation plant in Saline County operated by Big Ridge Inc., a Peabody Energy subsidiary, and American Electric Power Co.’s Cook Coal Terminal near Metropolis on the Ohio River.

Several area elected officials were not giving up on Crown III. They urged Springfield to beat the bushes in search of another steam coal customer who would purchase the mine’s recent output of roughly 1 million tons annually. Except for issuing a brief statement announcing the mine’s shutdown, Springfield officials did not comment on what, if any, plans they have for Crown III, which was opened in 1978 by the defunct Freeman United Coal Mining Corp.