Peabody Energy will be opening the new Sage Creek Coal Mine as soon as summer 2011 in west Routt County. A roundabout is proposed for the intersection of Routt County Roads 27 and 27A to accommodate coal trucks.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Peabody Energy will be opening the new Sage Creek Coal Mine as soon as summer 2011 in west Routt County. A roundabout is proposed for the intersection of Routt County Roads 27 and 27A to accommodate coal trucks.

New coal mine calls for revision of traffic patterns in western Routt County

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By the numbers

Twentymile Coal Company in Peabody’s words:

■ Peabody’s Twentymile Mine between Oak Creek and Hayden is one of the largest underground mines in the United States. Coal from Twentymile has a high heating value of 11,350 Btu per pound and low sulfur and ash content. In 2008, the mine shipped 8.6 million tons of coal to customers around the world.

■ Twentymile is a longwall operation, with longwall panels that are 1,000 feet wide and more than 2 miles long. The operation’s conveyor belt travels more than five miles underground and two miles on the surface, and the mine’s “scissorveyor” reduces the number of belt moves required. The Twentymile preparation plant is the largest west of the Mississippi River.

— When Peabody Energy’s new Sage Creek Coal Mine becomes operational as soon as late summer 2011, motorists on Routt County Road 27 will find themselves rolling through a really big traffic roundabout in the middle of west Routt sagebrush country. Think 200 feet in diameter and 628 feet in circumference big.

Senior County Road and Bridge Engineer Heather Mc­­Laughlin said the roundabout would allow coal trucks and traffic to flow continuously through the intersection of Routt County Roads 27 and 27A without stopping. However, another big advantage is improved safety for the public.

“You won’t be exposed to head-on collisions,” in a roundabout, McLaughlin said. “In a worst case scenario, you might have a sideswipe, but you won’t get T-boned.”

Mine officials and consulting engineers at Civil Design Consultants in Steamboat Springs are in conversations with the Routt County Road and Bridge Department about how to best handle high volumes of heavy truck traffic. The heavy coal truck traffic would be generated by plans to haul coal south from the new mine to a processing and railroad loading facility at the existing Twentymile Mine. The solutions in the works include the roundabout and four new climbing lanes that add as much as 4.8 miles along a 9.5 mile stretch of rural road.

McLaughlin estimated the paved climbing lanes could cost several million dollars and that the roundabout might cost another $500,000. She will supervise the construction for the county, which will be reimbursed for construction costs by the coal mine.

The coal-hauling route could see as many as 343 roundtrip truck routes a day, depending on coal contracts. However, Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said truck travel will be at much lower levels to begin with and ramp up sharply beginning in 2015 as production at Twentymile Mine dwindles.

C.R. 27 sees 450 roundtrips a day, McLaughlin said, including general traffic and coal trucks carrying loads north from Twentymile to the Hayden Station power plant east of Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Commissioner Doug Mong­er said in response to area farmers, coal hauling would not be allowed between 9 a.m. Saturday to midnight Sunday.

Many farmers are employed off their agricultural operations on weekdays, he explained and asked for some relief on weekends when it’s necessary to take slow-moving farm equipment and livestock onto county roads to get chores done.

Peabody’s plans for Sage Creek gained unanimous ap­­proval from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on July 13 in two votes — one for the mine and a second for the coal-hauling plan. The latter was the subject of more detailed questioning by the commissioners.

Worker levels to stay steady

Mine officials have told the county their plan is to gradually bring the new mine online as they phase down operations at Twentymile at a similar pace. The strategy would allow them to smoothly transition their existing work force from the older mine, where the Wadge Coal Seam is moving too deep underground, to Sage Creek, where the same coal seam is closer to the surface.

By the fifth year of operations at the new mine, officials expect to employ about 195 people.

Mining operations could begin by late summer 2011 with anticipated output of 500,000 tons per year, according to company officials. The annual output is expected to increase to about 2 million tons per year. In contrast, Twentymile Mine, with its longwall operation, can produce 8.6 million tons.

If market conditions permit, a longwall could be installed between two mining gateways that will result from the initial continuous mining operation at Sage Creek.

Local mine officials refer media inquiries to Peabody corporate headquarters in St. Louis. A spokeswoman did not respond to an e-mail Wednesday afternoon.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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