Twentymile lowers fan noise

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A redirection of an exhaust fan at the Twentymile Coal Company has eased noise complaints from surrounding neighbors.

In January, the Routt County Board of Commissioners told Twentymile officials they needed to rotate the fan by 90 degrees no later than June 30. That rotation was done during Memorial Day weekend, and final improvements were made last weekend.

Routt County Planner John Eastman said that change has reduced noise levels in the surrounding neighborhoods. Early one morning this week, Eastman went to four of the sites where the noise had been the most bothersome and said he could hear no noise from the fan.

He also said one of the most vocal neighbors said the fan still could be heard periodically, but at much lower levels.

"At least as of right now, we don't have a problem with it," Eastman said.

The issue was discussed at a Routt County Planning Commission meeting Thursday. Twentymile Coal Company came before the Planning Commission to amend a special-use permit for a new air inlet shaft, access road and construction pad.

The amendment asked for a new shaft about two miles from Routt County roads 33 and 27 and a half-mile from the exhaust fan. Before the new air intake ventilation shaft is built, an 11-acre construction pad and 3,000-foot access road extension will have to be completed.

Twentymile Coal Company, an underground mine, produces 11 million tons of coal a year and is the largest coal producer in Routt County and the state.

Although the fan was not part of the amendment, the Planning Commission could have discussed further mitigation measures as part of the existing permit.

Besides Eastman's comments, the Planning Com-mission made little mention of the fan, and no public comment was given.

The fan's old configuration pointed straight toward the Whitewood and Creek Ranch neighborhoods, which are about five miles away. During the permit-review process last winter, neighbors complained about the constant, annoying sound the fan made.

Neighbors compared it to a constant dripping, a train coming that never passed or a dog barking continuously.

Under the review process, the county commissioners had the option of revoking the company's permit, but they decided that making an amendment was the best solution.

The commissioners ordered the mine to redirect the fan, add sound-absorbent material and clean the fan more often.

Eastman said the readings he took after a tunnel was added to redirect the fan's exhaust were in the 50- to 55-decibel range at the nearest property line, which was about 150 feet away. Readings in similar areas before the tunnel was installed were in the 70-decibel range.

Eastman said that complaints about the fan noise still could come in during the winter, when sound seems to travel farther in that area.

Twentymile began operating the exhaust, which helps ventilate the underground mine shafts, in June 2003, and residents as far as Oak Creek complained.

The company then installed a silencer, but residents in subdivisions less than 10 miles from the fans said they still could hear the noise.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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