NTEC says ‘a lot of push and pull’ in coal tax deal

GILLETTE — Campbell County Commissioners hope that they’ve found a good partner in the Navajo Transitional Energy Co.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a monthly payment plan for NTEC to pay tens of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

When NTEC bought Cloud Peak Energy’s mines last year, it assumed more than $90 million in tax and royalty payments that Cloud Peak owed but had not paid. More than $40 million of that was in Campbell County.

“We can’t give it (all) to you right now, but we want to make it whole,” said Matthew Adams, NTEC vice president and the company’s senior tax counsel.

Under the plan, NTEC will pay back delinquent taxes from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and the first half of 2019, as well as the second half of 2019, which is due March 1, and all mineral production tax for 2020. The company will make a $1 million payment this week and another $1 million on Feb. 29. It will make 10 more payments of $1 million on the last day of each month for the rest of 2020.

After paying $12 million in 2020, NTEC will pay the remainder in 72 equal monthly payments starting Jan. 31, 2021, and ending December 2026.

“We’re asking for a little bit of help, grace, mercy and leniency so we can make those payments,” Adams said.

As long as NTEC makes its payments on time, it won’t have to pay interest. But if it’s not timely, then 18% interest will be accrued.

Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon said that in an ideal situation, Cloud Peak would have paid the taxes before NTEC took over.

“We’re not in an ideal situation. It’s been done, it’s been sold, and we’ve got to get caught up,” he said. “We appreciate your efforts in getting this caught up as quick as we can.”

Since November, the county had been talking with NTEC to try to come up with a solution. Commissioner Rusty Bell said those conversations were “cordial,” yet tough.

“There was a lot of push and a lot of pull,” Adams said.

The two parties were able to come to an agreement, and Bell said he hopes that the plan works well for both sides.

“We know what it’s like in Campbell County to work with good partners. We also know what it’s like to work with not-so-good partners,” he said.

For example, in April, the county approved a monthly payment schedule for Blackjewel LLC, which shut down the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines less than three months later.

NTEC wants to be a good partner, Adams said.

“We absolutely expect and aspire to be a highly respected community member, not only in Gillette and Campbell County but across the state and the nation,” he said.

Commissioner Del Shelstad said the county has a responsibility to make sure people and companies are paying their taxes, but it also has to take care of its residents, a lot of whom are coal miners.

“We want you to succeed, because that helps our community,” he said.

Commissioner Bob Maul said it has “been a long battle,” and he appreciates NTEC seeing it through.

“There were many times you could have just bailed,” he said. “Yet you stayed right in there, kept going and came up with a solution that was at least workable.”