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BNI Coal commissions $31 million dragline; coal miner replacing 45-year-old machine

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Kim Peterson walks back to a tent after christening Legacy, a new BNI Coal dragline, by breaking a bottle of champagne on its shovel Monday morning. Peterson, a third-generation coal miner, submitted the name selected for the 11 million pound dragline. Peterson said she lives in Bismarck and when working stays in Center, where her parents reside. She said her father also was a coal miner and operated the mine's previous three draglines. The electrically operated dragline stands 286 feet high and required 214 trucks to deliver it in pieces from Mississippi to the mine outside of Center.

CENTER -- A coal mining company in Center commissioned a $31 million dragline Monday and is about six weeks from putting the massive coal miner to use.

BNI Coal hosted the ceremony at its Center Mine. The machine that was previously operated by Mississippi Power Co. for six years is the world’s newest 757 Page dragline. The equipment, which has been named Legacy, will be more cost-effective than the dragline it's replacing, Big Jake, BNI General Manager Mike Heger said. 

The Legacy, BNI Coal's newest dragline, was presented to the public on Monday morning. The electrically operated dragline stands 286 feet high, weighs 11 million pounds and required 214 trucks to deliver it from Mississippi to the mine outside of Center.

Big Jake is the world’s oldest operating 757 Page model and has been in service for about 45 years. Heger said repairs would have cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

BNI Coal's previous dragline, Big Jake, sits next to its replacement, The Legacy, during an inaugural celebration. The Legacy was presented to the public on Monday morning. The electrically operated dragline stands 286 feet high, weighs 11 million pounds and required 214 trucks to deliver it from Mississippi to the mine outside of Center.

“Our existing machine needed major capital improvements over the next decade. We had an opportunity to purchase a new machine under a scenario where we would spend a little more money now, but over the following years it actually pays for itself,” Heger said. “The important thing about this, from our perspective, is that it’s a real strong signal that we intend to be here longer.” 

The new dragline weighs 11 million pounds and stands 286 feet high, which is about 44 feet taller than the state Capitol. The boom is longer than a football field at 310 feet.

“Draglines are the biggest piece of equipment that you have in a mine. Its job is to simply take all of the overburden, which is the soils and clays and rocks that are over the top of the coal, and remove it so that you can mine the coal beneath,” Heger said. 

The new machine could mine coal for another 50 years, according to Heger.

“They do take capital improvements over time, so there’ll be major repairs. But it is the latest electrical technology, which is a huge deal,” he said, adding that the rest of the machine is “fairly replaceable” with regular maintenance. Parts from Big Jake that are compatible with Legacy will be salvaged and saved. Other parts will be sold to other mines for their draglines. Steel from the machine will be sold to a recycler.

Heger said that with the substantial investment, BNI is committed to maintaining a safe environment for employees and the public. 

“Obviously, in any industrial processes, (there are) environmental issues that need to be addressed. Primarily with us, it’s the way we handle runoff. We also have oils and greases, which are typical of other coal industrial facilities. But we’ve got a long track record of taking care of those and we take that really seriously,” he said. 

The two-year process of obtaining the dragline from Mississippi and transporting it to North Dakota began in April 2021. It  involved disassembling the machinery into pieces, hauling them on semitrailers and reassembling them. Welding the dragline back together has been ongoing since last fall.

“We’re probably about six weeks out from this being a beautiful, painted machine that will walk right up that road and start digging coal,” Heger said.

BNI has two other draglines -- Liberty, and a smaller machine named Big Sandy. 

State Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said BNI's investment in Legacy helps drive the coal industry forward. 

“Commissioning a piece of equipment like this is really a momentous event ... This is a huge capital investment for BNI,” he said. “It’s also a demonstration of BNI’s recognition of the fact that coal is an essential part of maintaining the affordable and dependable electric system that we all have become accustomed to having."

The Legacy, BNI Coal's newest dragline, was presented to the public on Monday morning. The electrically operated dragline stands 286 feet high, weighs 11 million pounds and required 214 trucks to deliver it from Mississippi to the mine outside of Center.

Reach Jackie Jahfetson at 701-250-8252 or jackie.jahfetson@bismarcktribune.com.

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