Cargill Inc. is closing its historic salt mine in Avery Island, La., following a roof collapse there last month that left two miners dead.
The Minnetonka-based agribusiness said Thursday the accident didn't lead to its shuttering, but it did expedite the company's plans to stop extracting salt from the mine later this year.
"While the tragic events from December are still on our minds, the driving factor here is the timing," a Cargill spokesman said.
Salt production has been suspended for the past six weeks while federal investigators work to determine the cause of the fatal accident. Cargill said it had planned to stop hoisting salt from the mine when its lease ends at the close of 2021.
"With six weeks now behind us, considering the time to get back to full production, low demand for road salt due to a soft winter so far, and the time remaining in our lease, we need to focus our time and energy on safely closing the facility," Cargill said.
Federal inspectors found several safety violations following the collapse, including ground conditions, improper barricades or escape route signage, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration records.
The final report has not been released.
Shuttering a mine is a long, complex process. This one isn't expected to be complete until 2024.
"We will continue to maintain the integrity of the mine while we work to flood the mine with water and restore the surface to allow Avery Island Inc. to repurpose the land in the future," the company said. "We began drilling the flood shaft back in 2019, before the tragic accident occurred. This process is standard for the closure of a mine."
Cargill's other two salt mines, in Lansing, N.Y., and Cleveland, will remain open. All three of its underground mines produce salt used to de-ice roads and surfaces in the United States and Canada. The company also produces salt in surface ponds through the evaporation process, including at its Breaux Bridge, La., facility, all of which will remain open.
"This was a difficult business decision, but ultimately the right one as we considered the future economics of the mine's operation and our production capacity until the end of the year," Sonya Roberts, president of Cargill's salt business, said in a statement. "We are confident we will be able to fulfill our customer obligations and do not expect disruptions to their operations."
The mine currently employs about 200 workers, according to federal mining records.
Avery Island was the first rock salt mine in the U.S. It's also home to Tabasco sauce, which Edmund McIlhenny created in the 1860s by mixing a spicy red pepper with the island's plentiful salt.
Cargill has leased the enormous salt mine for more than two decades from an affiliate of McIlhenny Co., which still operates its Tabasco factory on the island.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767