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PotashCorp mine closure has Sussex residents fearing worst about economy

WATCH ABOVE: The potash mine near Sussex is shutting down and eliminating more than 400 high paying jobs. As Global’s Shelley Steeves reports, the entire town is in a state of disbelief.

Sussex is losing its largest employer as Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PotashCorp) announced Tuesday it will suspend operations at its Picadilly mine, putting as many as 430 people out of work.

READ MORE: Over 400 jobs lost as PotashCorp suspends New Brunswick potash operation

Jason Aylward, who works in construction at the mine, said he learned the news when he arrived at work.

“I think it will crush the whole community,” he said. “They are keeping a few guys to clean up and that’s all.”

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Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said the move was “completely unexpected.”

“It’s heartbreaking news,” he said.

Thorne said the shutdown has left the community in shock because the employees felt their jobs were safe.

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“Starting in 2008 Potash Corp. has invested almost $2 billion in establishing the new Picadilly mine, so we certainly thought that mining is our community would go on for at least another generation or two,” he said.

He added that the calibre of jobs lost will be next to impossible to replace, with miners earning between $80,000 and $105,000.

Government House Leader Dominic Leblanc said the closure is an example of how fragile some sectors of the economy are due to global commodity prices.

“As we heard from the premier [Brian Gallant] on Sunday evening, the New Brunswick economy is in a particularly tough spot, so today’s news makes it even that much more difficult,” he said.

“Our government will work with the province and the communities and the company to identify other opportunities to try and help in terms of training and so on, but we’re not naive to the challenge that this represents for New Brunswick and for those workers. It’s a difficult time.”

RELATED: PotashCorp hastens closure of N.B. mine, plans Sask. production hiatus

Sussex resident Kevin Hodgin, who works at a local glass company, said the economy of the entire community is now at risk.

“We get a lot of miners in. Everybody needs a windshield, everybody needs glass for their house,” he said, noting the shutdown will likely affect many other businesses in the area.

The president of PotashCorp, Mark Fracchia, said the closure is linked to a decrease in worldwide demand.

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“New Brunswick has always been our highest-cost operation in our potash group, and certainly under challenging market conditions such as we are facing today we just felt we could not continue to operate that mine,” he said.

Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr said the news represents “a difficult moment” for New Brunswickers and their families. He also pointed to low commodity prices as a problem catalyzing job losses across Canada.

“There are tens of thousands of people who have lost their jobs in Alberta for the same general reason…and as a government, we are committed to broadening, in the long term, our capacity to create jobs in the energy sector,” he said. “New Brunswick is an important part of that strategy.”

More than 100 jobs will be available for some employees to join the company’s Saskatchewan-based operations. The company has also allocated $5 million in transitional funding to help compensate employees and businesses for the financial impact of the closure.

The company will retain about 100 employees for the shutdown, which is expected to take about 4 months. Afterward, about 35 employees will continue working at the mine to keep it in maintenance mode, although the shutdown appears to be indefinite.

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