Coal conference chugs into Steamboat Springs

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— Maintaining a viable Colorado coal industry is the goal of this week's 13th annual Northwest Colorado Coal Conference.

The conference, which begins Thursday, is an educational forum attended by representatives of the Seneca and Twenty-Mile mines, the Hayden Power Plant, the Colowyo and Trapper mines, the Craig Station, coal mines in Rio Blanco, Gunnison, and Delta counties, and federal, state and local government officials.

Coal production a significant part of the economy in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties.

"The whole idea behind the conference is to get state legislators, at the end of the legislative session, to come visit the Western Slope and learn exactly what is going on up here with respect to the coal industry and gas industry," Routt County Commissioner and conference co-chair Dan Ellison said. "Very few legislators really understand the happenings. Last year, Routt County was the No. 1 producer of coal in the state, and has also been in three out of the past four years."

Ellison is not sure how many legislators will attend this year's event, but is anticipating somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 legislators.

"These annual Northwest Colorado Coal Conferences started when the Colorado coal industry had been steadily losing production back in the '70s and '80s," Moffat County Commissioner and conference co-chair Joe Janosec said. "The industry was also facing a proposed ban on burning coal over in Denver. However, these conferences developed support for state tax incentives for investments, and state regulatory changes to encourage use of clean-coal technology."

Last year, Colorado was the No. 1 coal-producing state in the country, Ellison said. Of almost 29.3 million tons of coal mined in Colorado, 17 million came from Moffat and Routt counties, he added.

"Power plants and mines both provide locals with good employment, with a good living wage, benefits and retirement benefits," Ellison said. "Right now, about 426 Routt residents are employed as miners, and about 413 Moffat residents mine coal as well. They are not temporary, seasonal, recreation jobs. They are year round. That is an important thing."

"Coal mines and the power plant also contribute to a good tax base. Additionally, if we didn't have the coal up here, and weren't exporting it, we wouldn't have the railroad. Coal really keeps us going up here," Ellison added. "Twenty to 25 percent of of property tax valuation in Routt County comes from the two coal mines and power plant."

Interested residents of Routt and Moffat counties are encouraged to attend the conference.

"It is important they make themselves aware of what's going on in other businesses and industries of the area it is such an important part of the economy. Whether the question is how the coal industry will affect other businesses, the environment, or something else, are all good questions." Ellison said. "We're a tight community, and even though many people are not directly tied in with this industry, we depend upon each others' economic strengths."

The conference will begin on at 1 p.m., Thursday, at Olympian Hall.

Director of the Colorado Department of National Resources Greg Walsher will address attendants Thursday evening, following a barbecue dinner. The conference will continue Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at Olympian Hall. Tours of the Hayden Power Plant, Seneca Mine and Twentymile mine will be offered Friday afternoon.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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