An open house Tuesday at the Breen Community Building focused on the expansion of a coal mine west of Durango drew ardent supporters and skeptics.
The GCC Energy King II Coal Mine 20 miles west of Durangoexpects to run out of reserves in about two years, and the company is seeking a 950-acre expansion of the underground workings. A decision on the permit is expected in the fall.
There are four areas of expansion, all adjacent to the mine, according to Bureau of Land Management maps.
The company would not add above-ground roads or other infrastructure as part of the expansion, said Marcelo Calle with the Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).
The land is split estate, so the federal government manages the subsurface minerals that could extend the life of the current mine by an estimated five to seven years, a BLM description states. The modified permit would allow the continued operation of the mine at current levels, according to the company.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe owns 590 surface acres that could be affected by the expansion, and tribal officials are aware of the proposal, Calle said. The rest of the property is privately owned.
The surface is not expected to be disturbed either during extraction or after it closes. The coal mine is expected to collapse, a process called subsidence, when mining is complete, Calle said.
“Walking above the mine, you would be hard-pressed to spot any effects of subsidence,” Calle said.
Ground water quality and quantity is not expected to change as a result of the mine expansion, he said.
If the expansion is approved, water quality monitoring wells would be set up above the mine and below the expansion, said Roberta Martinez Hernandez, an environmental engineer with the OSMRE.
The monitoring would help protect residents at the nearby Vista de Oro subdivision, who rely on wells. While residential wells may have water-treatment systems, those systems were likely set up for a certain level of water quality, and if that changes, they need to know, she said.
Don Crowley with High Country Transportation, a subcontractor for GCC Energy, came to the meeting to back the expansion because it is a large and excellent employer, he said. “Thirty years ago, everybody would have been here supporting this,” he said.
The mine employs 91 people with total salaries and benefits estimated to be about $12 million annually.
Sharon Orr and Karen Hunzeker are some of the mine’s neighbors who have lobbied for change at the mine for several years, and they still have concerns. They are worried that the mine’s use of agriculture water might hurt the water table and in turn residential well production.
“Everybody is worried we’re all going to go dry,” Hunzeker said.
Truck traffic around the mine was also a major concern for neighbors.
In 2016, the mine paved a mile of County Road 120, which has helped cut down on dust and noise, Hunzeker said.
Orr also doesn’t want to see the expansion get approved until all of the road improvements are complete.
“I think they could have been on a tighter timeline to get the improvements done. It’s ruined a lot of people’s quality of life out here,” she said.
La Plata County regulates traffic on County Road 120 and it limited the mine to 80 truck trips per day, with no truck traffic on Sunday. As road improvements are made, the truck traffic will increase in phases. By 2022, 120 truck trips per day will be allowed.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis story has been updated to correct the number for the county road that services the mine.