A coal mine in La Plata County is one step closer to expanding operations for at least another 20 years.
Preparing for its coal reserves to run out, GCC Energy, which has operated the King II coal mine near Hesperus since 2007, asked the Bureau of Land Management in 2018 for a lease to expand the mine by 2,462 acres, opening an estimated 12 million tons of coal.
The BLM last week released an environmental analysis that looks at the supposed impacts of approving the expansion, which the public can now comment on. The agency is working with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in the process.
According to the BLM, the environmental assessment was part of a pilot project to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act, a directive of the Trump administration to support and speed up the development of coal leasing and permitting.
“The Trump administration is committed to creating jobs and producing energy safely,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a prepared statement. “The BLM and OSMRE worked together to reduce environmental analysis redundancies and streamline the overall process to bring this project to fruition. We look forward to receiving public comments on a proposal that would extend the life of this mine and sustain jobs for another 22 years.”
In December 2017, the BLM approved a separate request from GCC Energy to expand the mine by 950 acres. The company said at the time if expansions were not approved, the King II mine would run out of coal and be forced to shut down, laying off 100 employees and cutting local tax revenue.
GCC Energy’s parent company is Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, a multimillion dollar international cement manufacturer based in Chihuahua, Mexico. Since the company took over the King II mine, it has averaged about 700,000 tons of coal per year, which is used mainly for cement production. But increasingly, production has waned as the industry takes a downturn.
If approved, the expansion would have minimal impact on surface operations, federal records show. In a letter to nearby property owners earlier this year, King II mine manager Chris Dorenkamp said “nothing changes in the way we operate” with the future development.
Over the years, neighbors along GCC’s main trafficking route on County Road 120 have complained about noise, dust and the number of trucks that go by daily. The company in response has limited daily trips, stopped running on Sundays and paved part of the road.
In February, La Plata County commissioners said they want a complete study of potential impacts to surrounding water before any such project is approved. A BLM spokesman did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday morning.
A public hearing will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. July 24 at the Dolores Public Lands Office at 29211 Colorado Highway 184 in Dolores. At a recent meeting between La Plata County and BLM, Commissioner Gwen Lachelt took issue with holding a meeting for the King II mine at a location almost an hour away from the residents who live near the mine.
BLM Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson did not immediately respond to a question asking if the BLM plans to hold a meeting closer to the mine where residents are most impacted.
In a prepared statement, Clementson said, “The coal reserves covered by this proposal are a key component in the production of concrete, which is essential to the nation’s construction industry and infrastructure.
“Public participation and input will help the BLM identify and address issues raised by the proposal,” she said. “We encourage people to review the EA and submit comments.”