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BILLINGS - An Ohio-based coal trading company has expressed interest in buying the majority of the Bull Mountain coal mine south of Roundup, officials said Wednesday.

Larry Lekse, chairman of the Musselshell County Commission, said Columbus-based Boich Group is ready to invest millions of dollars in the mine. He said Bull Mountain mine supervisor Bob Ochsner informed him of the plan last week.

"Ochsner called and congratulated me on my re-election, saying that we were soon to be the richest county in Montana," Lekse said. "I held back a little bit because I've been burned so much."

Miners have repeatedly tried since the mid-1990s to develop the vast coal reserves in the Bull Mountains, but large-scale development has been unsuccessful.

Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, said the deal should close in about a month.

"Hell, I've been waiting 20 years for this," said Olson, who's running for a seat on the Montana Public Service Commission. "It sounds good. Everything sounds legitimate."

Officials at Boich declined to comment about their involvement in the mine.

Lekse and Olson said the Ohio company's potential investment hasn't been disclosed, but Boich has agreed to pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit involving debt owed to East Coast investors who helped finance the Bull Mountain project.

Atlanta securities attorney Gregory Bartko has said that a check for $18 million already has arrived at his office. Bartko represents the court-appointed receiver for Webb Financial Group Inc., Franklin Asset Exchange LLC and Disciples Limited LLC, which filed a federal lawsuit against Bull Mountain in December 2006.

Bartko said the remaining $2 million is due by July 15, the closing date for the next investor to buy into the Bull Mountain coal mine.

The three East Coast companies, which represent about 350 investors, claimed the company and its successors defaulted on $20 million in loans for the project. U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby ruled in March that Bull Mountain and related companies had breached promises to pay the investors.

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