Truck traffic, water quality and climate change dominated the discussion for a handful of residents who showed up for a meeting this week about the possible expansion of GCC Energy’s King II coal mine in Hesperus.
Facing low coal reserves, 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 mine an additional 2,462 acres for an estimated 12 million tons of coal.
The BLM earlier this summer released an environmental analysis of supposed impacts of the expansion, which recommended GCC Energy be allowed to explore new reserves of coal that could extend the life of the mine by at least 22 years.
The few residents who showed up Thursday for the open house at the Breen Community Center opposed the expansion.
“The idea of expanding is reprehensible,” said Kara Armano, of Hesperus. “It’s 2019. Coal is not an efficient use of our natural resources.” She also was concerned about air and water quality.
Adele Riffe, who lives on Colorado Highway 140, a route used to transport coal, complained about GCC Energy’s truck drivers.
“They come right up to the stop sign and slam on their breaks,” she said. “If we had a chance to vote on this (the expansion), I’d vote no.”
Her husband, Phillip, said he was concerned about climate change.
“I think we should be curtailing the use of coal,” he said. “My big deal is climate change.”
Kirby MacLaurin said he opposes coal extraction. He doesn’t live near Hesperus, he said, but he does “live in this atmosphere.”
Jordan McCourt, a project coordinator for GCC Energy, favored the expansion because it might support jobs.
“I like my job,” he said.
Dan Huntington, a fourth-generation rancher who lives adjacent to the mine, supported extending the life of GCC Energy’s operation. He sells water, about 60 acre-feet a year, to GCC Energy.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “They (GCC Energy) do a heck of a lot for the county with roads, taxes, jobs. And they’ve been a good neighbor.”
The BLM told the open house visitors that it needed “substantive comments” that speak directly to suggestions or parts of the proposed project. The BLM also spoke to some of the residents’ concerns.
BLM project manager James Blair said King II’s impact on water quality is minimal. The mine is above the water table and has little interaction with groundwater, he said.
A GCC representative said most of the water purchased from Huntington is used for dust control and does not leave the site.
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 coal industry took a downturn.
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.
In response to complaints about GCC’s main traffic route on County Road 120, the company has limited daily trips, stopped running on Sunday and paved part of the road.
The public may comment through the BLM’s website at https://bit.ly/2XCvFcG until Aug. 5. A BLM official said the agency has received relatively little public comment as of Thursday.
A final decision on the expansion is expected in March 2020.