Let the negotiations for land acquisitions begin between La Plata County and property owners along a county road that serves as the main haul route for GCC Energy’s King II coal mine.
Mining for coal in Hay Gulch, an area about 20 miles west of Durango, has been going on since the 1940s.
But the operation exponentially picked up in 2007 when Mexico-based cement producer Grupos Cementos de Chihuahua, operating under the name GCC Energy, purchased La Plata County’s only operating coal mine.
Since the takeover, neighbors along the mine’s main trafficking route – County Road 120 – have consistently complained about the number of daily trucks, which can reach up to about 100 round-trips a day, as well as the dust, noise and safety issues from truck drivers going too fast.
In 2016, when GCC Energy was trying to obtain a Class 2 land-use permit for the King II operation, an integral part of the deal was that GCC Energy must improve County Road 120, with the company ultimately agreeing to make $10 million in improvements to the gateway to the mine.
GCC Energy intends to work on 6.4 miles of County Road 120 – about 4 miles of a gravel segment and 2½ miles of a paved segment.
“GCC is paying for the design and construction of road improvements to County Code standards to ensure the mine is compatible with other existing, adjoining land uses,” Gina Lotito, vice president of energy and sustainability, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
To date, GCC Energy has spent nearly $6 million on improvements, paving a few miles of the graveled road and focusing on the stretch that has homes along it. According to county officials, the company is entering the final phase of the project, which requires acquiring private land to widen the road.
On Thursday, La Plata County commissioners voted to allow negotiations to begin with 17 different property owners along the road who own land identified as being necessary to acquire so the improvement project can be completed.
All costs would ultimately be covered by GCC Energy.
Sheryl Rogers, the county’s attorney, said GCC Energy must first work with property owners in acquiring their land. If those talks stall, the county would become involved. If no agreement can be reached after the county has stepped in, eminent domain may be used.
Rogers, however, said in the past, negotiations have been successful with landowners along County Road 120, and the county doesn’t expect to need to use eminent domain.
“The size of the parcels are very minimal in size,” Rogers said. “We do not anticipate the need for eminent domain, but it’s included in the resolution because of the timing necessary for all acquisitions so GCC can begin in the spring.”
The county will send a notice to property owners on Jan. 6, which will then kick off a 30- to 60-day negotiation period. Rogers said the county hopes to have all negotiations completed by March 13.
Once GCC Energy is done with its road-improvement project sometime in 2020, the company can start running a maximum of 120 round-trips a day.
GCC Energy was also recently granted a request for expansion, which is expected to extend the life of the mine by at least another 20 years.