The company town of Tumbler Ridge in northeastern B.C. is losing its major employer. The Quintette coal mine will close in August. At least 500 people will lose their jobs.

The mine had been scheduled to shut down three years from now.

Mike Lipkewich, an executive with Teck Corp. which operates the mine, blames the premature closure on falling coal sales and prices, and the rising Canadian dollar. He says in the past 10 months the mine lost more than $10 million.

"Quintette is a high-cost mine," Lipkewich says. "This is a regrettable situation. Certainly the community at Tumbler Ridge will feel the loss of people living in the community."

Teck also operates the smaller Bullmoose coal mine nearby. It will continue to run.

The company had planned to close both mines down in March 2003, when the company's current contracts with Japanese steelmakers were due to expire.

Quintette was part of a mega-project backed by the Social Credit government of Bill Bennett in the early 1980s.