With GCC Energy seeking a massive expansion for its coal mine in Hesperus, La Plata County commissioners said Tuesday they want a complete study of potential impacts to surrounding water before any such project is approved.
The Bureau of Land Management earlier this month announced it was taking public comment about the proposed expansion, which could extend the life of the mine at least 20 years.
If the expansion is ultimately approved, the King II coal mine, southwest of Durango, would increase by 2,462 acres, essentially doubling the underground workings of the mine and opening access to an additional 7.6 million tons of coal. The expansion would have no affect on the ground surface.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the county has never seen a complete hydrological study that examines the impacts mine operations have on surface water and groundwater.
“When it comes to the doubling of an existing mine … I think we want to have a much better understanding of the impacts … on the hydrology system,” she said.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff also said she would like to see a study about how mine operations may affect adjacent wells or runoff into the nearby La Plata River.
“It needs to continue to be on our radar,” she said.
La Plata County planner Dan Murphy said GCC Energy uses a substantial amount of water, leased from local rancher Dan Huntington. GCC Energy stores the water in an on-site reservoir.
He said GCC Energy maintains groundwater wells for monitoring, but there hasn’t been a study on potential impacts on the La Plata River.
County commissioners approved a letter to BLM to be entered as public comment urging more attention be paid to water issues, as well as asking for public meetings before any expansion is given the green light.
They also said the BLM’s analysis of the expansion should continue to look at noise, traffic and dust issues.
Gina Lotito, vice president of Energy and Sustainability for GCC Energy, wrote in an email hydrology analyses are part of the BLM’s environmental assessment process.
“We appreciate that people are using this comment period to provide input to the BLM,” she wrote.