Times are tough in a rural county in northeast Washington because one of the region’s biggest employers is shutting down. The Pend Oreille Mine shut down on July 31, at a cost of about 200 family-wage jobs in an area of fewer than 1,000 residents.
The Pend Oreille Mine is an underground lead and zinc mine located near Metaline Falls in northeastern Washington. Operations were restarted at Pend Oreille in December 2014, after previously being on care and maintenance since 2009, according to the company's website.
Mining and concentrate production were suspended on July 31, 2019, and the mine is being transitioned to care and maintenance due to the mine's current reserve being close to exhausted. The owners of the Pend Oreille Mine said the closure was prompted by slumping demand for zinc and the prohibitive cost of exploring for new deposits.
Pend Oreille County Commissioner Steve Kiss says the loss of nearly 200 jobs at the mine really hurts, although about 40 employees will be retained for long-term maintenance., reports the Columbian.
“The mine was the last operating natural resource-based industry in the northern part of the county, with the exception of two hydroelectric facilities,” Kiss said. “In the past, we have lost other mines, sawmills, a cement plant and the railroad that served all these industries.”
Mountains and sky are reflected in the pristine waters of Sullivan Lake. Located east of Metaline Falls, Washington, the lake offers fishing, boating, picnicking, camping, and hiking trails with interpretation and stunning views of both the lake and Selkirk Mountains. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
An imbalance of prosperity
The Associated Press notes that the closing of the mine and loss of jobs in rural Pend Oreille County is another sign of the imbalance of prosperity in Washington state. The Seattle area is awash with high-paying jobs, while rural areas that depend on natural resources like mining and logging or fishing are suffering.
Then imbalance seen in Washington is part of a national trend that divides urban areas from their rural neighbors. Urban areas generally have higher per-capita income, lower poverty rates, lower unemployment rates, and higher education levels. In rural areas, the opposite is true, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural areas are also suffering a declining population, while urban areas grow, the USDA said.
Small businesses struggle to survive in the area in the best of times, Kiss said. “Our two grocery stores, a few restaurants and bars, and two gas stations/convenience stores will definitely see a reduction in sales,” he said, while local governments will see less tax revenue.
Coupled with the loss of jobs is the loss of part of the county's population. Mining companies from across the nation have been recruiting the employees of the Pend Oreille Mine because underground hard rock mining is a specialized skill. However, there is another reason for the shrinking population.
Many people with health problems are also leaving, just to be closer to hospitals and medical care because the local clinic just lost its only doctor.
Kiss, who has lived in Pend Oreille County for almost 60 years, says, “I fully understand the resiliency of the people who live here. We will survive.”