Updated April 3, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.
Steamboat Springs The Routt County Planning Commission on Thursday night embraced Peabody Energy’s plans to build a new coal mine west of Steamboat Springs, but it also sent a clear message to mine officials that the county needs more information about the number of heavy trucks needed to haul the coal before the plan could be endorsed.
“I think you get a sense of what you need to do,” Commission Chairman Don Alperti told Peabody officials. “We need more detailed information.”
The meeting served as a pre-application conference intended to give mine officials feedback about their proposal. No vote was taken.
The new Sage Creek Mine portal would be built just northwest of the existing Twentymile/Foidel Creek Mine along Routt County Road 27. Within a few years, Sage Creek will replace Twentymile.
Initially, Twentymile Coal Co. environmental manager Scott Cowman said, Sage Creek would not involve a longwall mining operation like that at Twentymile. However, the continuous mining process would be done in a way that would support the possibility of a longwall at Sage Creek in the future.
“Peabody has a forward-looking policy of evaluating, securing and permitting additional coal reserves to address future needs and maintain a long-term supply of clean, high-BTU, low-sulfur and low-ash coal for Northwest Colorado and other markets,” Cowman said.
Planning Commissioner Jay Gallagher called Peabody’s coal mining operation a critical piece of the local economy.
“It’s the underpinning of our economy, provides good jobs, and is being proposed in an area that has already been disturbed and mined for many, many years,” he said.
The Twentymile mine is nearing the point that it can no longer access the coal it has been mining from its location west of Steamboat Springs. The mine is situated in a geologic area noteworthy for alternating ridges and draws (anticlines and synclines) where the coal, buried in layers of sandstone and shale, is sometimes within 100 feet of the surface and sometimes 1,200 feet below the surface.
The new Sage Creek Mine operation would mine the same Wadge coal seam that Twentymile has been mining, but at a more accessible point a few miles away. The new mine portal, which could be built as soon as this summer on State Trust Lands, would disturb no more than 270 surface acres that are not visible from county roads, Cowman said. He added that the new mine would be built on a parcel that is roughly half composed of land already reclaimed from surface mining operations in another era.
The increased truck traffic on C.R. 27 would stem from the need to haul a portion of the coal to the Twentymile site and wash it to make it suitable for use at the nearby Hayden Station power plant.
The details were summarized in Planning Department documents: “Two coal haul routes are proposed. The northbound route to Hayden Station extends northwest along Routt County Road 27A for 1.2 miles and RCR 27 for 2.1 miles … the proposed southbound route to the Twentymile wash plant extends northwest on RCR 27A for 1.2 miles and south along RCR 27 for 9.4 miles.
“The applicant will be seeking approval to haul as much as 2.5 million tons of coal per year from Sage Creek to Twentymile. The coal hauled to Twentymile would be processed and loaded into rail cars.”
As operations at Twentymile wind down and Sage Creek picks up a greater share of coal output, existing employees would shift from Twentymile to the new mine. By year five of operations at the new mine, officials expect to employ about 195 people.
Mining operations could begin in summer 2011 with anticipated output of a half million tons per year. The annual output is expected to increase to about 2 million tons per year.
Twentymile, with its longwall, is capable of producing 8.5 million tons per year.
If market conditions permit, a longwall could be installed between two mining gateways that will result from the initial continuous mining, or CM, operation at Sage Creek.
“Twentymile has a finite amount of coal left,” said Sage Creek Coal Co. project manager Mike Ludlow. “As Twentymile comes down and Sage Creek ramps up, we don’t look for employment to go up any significant amount. The number will not be a net gain.”
The Sage Creek mine proposal will go to the Routt County Board of Commission for additional feedback, after which Peabody Energy officials will have a period of weeks to address any concerns.