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Much improved: GCC makes good on commitment to improve CR 120

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Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018 11:09 PM
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

07-20-2018 - Durango- A coal truck drives down County Road 120, which has been improved and paved. This section of road was realigned, saving the historic barn.

There is no pleasing some people.

That must be recognized in any attempt to praise La Plata County and Grupos Cementos de Chihuahua for the road improvements made since 2016 on the northern section of County Road 120, the route that connects Hay Gulch, its neighborhoods and the King II coal mine with Colorado Highway 140 south of Hesperus.

There can be no good news, some people will argue, in road improvements that allow a local mine to produce and transport more coal that will be burned in the energy-intensive process of making cement, adding to our atmosphere’s burden of greenhouse gases in an era of climate change.

And some who drive C.R. 120 on a daily basis, and share the road with trucks hauling about 30 tons of coal in each load – making more than 100 trips in and out of the mine each day – will argue that no amount of roadwork can make it safe, or eliminate the noise that is incompatible with what should be a peaceful, scenic gem of a neighborhood on the western side of the county.

But GCC has been diligent and timely in keeping its agreement to improve C.R. 120 as required by La Plata County as part of its land use permit, and there are more improvements still to come.

For a few, there will never come a day when GCC’s operation, including the jobs it provides and the royalties and taxes it pays, will be welcome in the area, but so far, the company has been sincere in its efforts.

At a cost of $6.75 million, roughly half the road to the mine, including its steeper and narrower sections, has been widened and paved. Guardrails and concrete barriers have been installed, a dangerous 90-degree corner reconfigured and a strict 25 mph speed limit imposed.

On the section of the road most used by residents, the clouds of dust stirred up by the trucks, and the washboard dirt surface left in their wake, are a thing of the past.

Over the next three years, the remaining 2 miles of gravel road leading to the mine entrance, which GCC now sprays with water to keep the dust down, will be reconstructed and paved as well.

Great, say critics. A smooth, paved road will only encourage speeding by truck traffic. But that does not seem to be the case.

GCC randomly monitors coal truck speed on the county road by radar, and publishes results, along with a log of all truck traffic and the results of groundwater testing (required by the state) on its website at www.gccenergy.net.

On the last day of July, for example, 24 trucks were monitored for speed, and two were moving faster than 25 mph. But not by much; the “average MPH exceedence” recorded for the pair was just 1.5 mph.

For the life of the mine, C.R. 120 in Hay Gulch will not be the quiet, scenic stretch of road folks speak about when discussing the “good old days.” But today it is a far cry from the state of affairs a decade ago.

Kudos to GCC, and to the county, for making a bad situation much better.

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