County to discuss coal group

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Routt County commissioners today will discuss whether to promote the formation of a committee to review the coal industry's future in the county.

Diane Mitsch Bush, vice-chairwoman of the county's planning commission, will present ideas about what kinds of topics the committee could review.

The push for the committee stems from a November work session between Routt County and Hayden planning commissioners. During the meeting, commissioners discussed possible rail options for hauling coal near Hayden. Xcel Energy officials have for a few years expressed the need for a rail spur to haul coal from Twentymile Mine to the Hayden Power Station.

Routt County planning commissioners voted unanimously to propose the formation of a committee to discuss the future of the coal industry in the county.

The committee is necessary because plans such as Xcel's are part of a bigger, countywide concern about the industry's future, Mitsch Bush said Monday.

"It's been an issue for so long, underlying our discussions," she said.

Xcel's operations, as an example, have and will be affected by mine closings. The Seneca mine is set to close by the end of this month, and Twentymile Mine is set to close by 2012, officials estimate.

The coal industry is important to Routt County, officials say, because it brings property tax, severance tax and grant moneys to towns and other entities in the county. Coal mining is also a source of jobs, Mitsch Bush said.

"Coal accounts for some very important jobs in this county, well-paying jobs," she said.

Mitsch Bush said that a committee could include the following stakeholders: Routt County officials, officials from county towns, industry representatives and possible Moffat County officials.

"We thought it would be good to have people sitting down at the table," she said.

Routt County commissioners said Monday that the committee might have trouble getting input from industry officials, who are likely to be concerned about sharing proprietary information.

Mitsch Bush said she understood why company officials would be hesitant to take part in such a committee. But the presence of a facilitator and a mutual understanding among committee members should ease their fears, she said.

"We're not asking for things that they can't do or can't give us," she said.

Commissioner Nancy Stah--oviak said she was concerned about whether such a committee was realistic. County officials cannot know what the future of the coal market is, she said.

"Some individuals, I guess, feel that they have more control over our destiny than I do."

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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