Decker was once one of the largest surface mines in the U.S., producing more than 10 million tons of coal annually. A supply contract with major customer Detroit Edison Company expires next year, according to court documents.
The 75 layoffs announced last month were part of what Decker's owners referred to as "ongoing expense management activities."
The mine operated at a $21.1 million loss in 2011, according to court documents. Yet, Ambre contends there are tens of millions of tons of coal still in place at Decker that could be economically mined.
Fuller indicated the company remains optimistic about future growth. It co-owns with Anadarko Petroleum a second mine, Black Butte, in Wyoming, and in April announced a deal to supply up to 5.5 million tons of coal per year to a pair of utilities in South Korea.
"There's an opportunity to increase production (at the Decker mine) in the future, and of course we'd like to hire folks back," Fuller said.
Ambre said its proposed Morrow Pacific port along the Columbia River near Boardman, Ore., could be operational as early as 2014, with the larger Millennium port ready by 2016.
Cloud Peak president and CEO Colin Marshall said in a statement the deal with Ambre "positions both our companies to meet anticipated future growth in Asian thermal coal demand."
Cloud Peak spokesman Bob Green said the land and rail easements in the agreement would give the company better access to the Young's Creek coal tracts just across the border in Wyoming.
Those were bought in July for $195 million and contain an estimated 450 million tons of coal. Regulatory filings indicate Young's Creek is permitted for mining of 14 million tons annually by 2019.
The company is still working on a development plan for mining that coal and no timeline has been established, Green said.