In preparation of a long-awaited vote on a Class II land-use permit, La Plata County officials toured the King II coal mine site in Hesperus and surrounding residential areas Wednesday afternoon.
County commissioners, planning and administrative staff and mine employees made several stops along County Road 120 to observe the impacts on residents, including the proximity of company vehicles passing on their way to and from the mine.
King I began operating in Hay Gulch more than 75 years ago, expanding in 2007 with the King II mine, owned by GCC Energy. As production has increased, so has truck traffic, which has been a major point of conflict for residents.
County commissioners were instructed to observe, not deliberate, during Wednesday’s tour, so comments were limited.
But Gina Nance, vice president of environment and energy at GCC, said the company has striven to achieve the “compatibility” stipulation for a county land-use permit, particularly in meeting neighbors’ needs.
“We’ve done a lot of work to address that,” she said.
County planning staff showed commissioners where buffer walls can be erected at property lines, at residents’ request, to mitigate noise, dust and the sight of passing trucks. That includes the home of Julie McCue, where commissioners could see trucks rumbling by from her front porch.
As a permit condition, GCC must complete $10 million in road improvements in five phases, beginning with temporary improvements along a one-mile, unpaved segment from McCue’s house to another residence. Phase two entails repaving and realigning a two-mile stretch from McCue’s house to the mine. Improvements also include realignment of several 90-degree turns company trucks navigate daily.
GCC will pay for improvements and also to maintain County Road 120 with a 12-cent per-ton fee that will increase over time.
Commissioners also visited the King I site, which the company uses as a dumping ground for rock waste from King II. Eventually, GCC will have to seek a separate land-use permit for King I.
GCC has negotiated with the county for years to obtain a Class II permit, which is necessary to operate a commercial business in La Plata County. GCC submitted a permit application in 2012 after the county said it was necessary, reversing a previous ruling that the mine did not need a permit because it sits on Bureau of Land Management land.
The parties have slowly neared an agreement, with a final vote scheduled for May 31.
“We requested this tour on behalf of our clients,” said Cynthia Roebuck, executive director of SWCO Advocates, which has led the residential crusade for road improvements and traffic mitigation.
“The fact that we had all the commissioners present makes it easier for the hearing.”
The May 31 meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the county Administrative Building and is expected to be an all-day process, with presentations from county staff members and the applicant. The public comment period is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.