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Billionaire’s coal struggles irking biz owners

June 17, 2013 • Business


FILE – In this July 2, 2010 file photo released by The Greenbrier Resort, The Greenbrier Resort owner and chairman Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Worth an estimated $1.7 billion, Justice is a prominent member of the tiny West Virginia community of Lewisburg, keeping a modest home and finding time to coach basketball at the local high school. But his coal operations in Appalachia are struggling as business owners have filed at least nine lawsuits since late 2011 claiming they are not being paid for work at Justice mines. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini for The Greenbrier Resort, File)

West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice made his fortune in coal and agriculture, and he is revered in his home state as the man who rescued the historic Greenbrier resort from bankruptcy.

Worth an estimated $1.7 billion, Justice is a prominent member of the tiny West Virginia community of Lewisburg, keeping a modest home and finding time to coach basketball at the local high school. He ranks No. 292 on a list of wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, which estimates that his personal wealth has grown by $500 million in the last year.

But his coal operations in Appalachia are struggling as business owners have filed at least nine lawsuits since late 2011 claiming they are not being paid for work at Justice mines. Still others say they are owed money but haven’t yet sued.

“There is some angry, angry people,” said Mark Miracle, the owner of Dynatech Electronics in Harlan, Ky. Miracle says he is owed about $150,000 for electrical mining supplies provided to three Justice mining companies more than a year ago. “They owe a lot of people a lot of money.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Justice acknowledged his companies have some debts but said they are emblematic of the coal industry’s wider struggles.

“The coal business is terrible, it’s just terrible and we’re doing everything in our power to stay open and keep people working,” Justice said. “We’re one of the few (companies) that are even still working, trying to employ people and pay taxes.”

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