The Routt County Board of Commissioners will decide March 23 whether to approve a request from Twentymile Coal Co. to increase the amount of coal it hauls on 14 miles of county road between the mine and U.S Highway 40.
Routt County's planning commissioners have already recommended that the request be denied, citing the cumulative effects of the increasing coal hauls.
The mine wants to haul 360,000 tons of coal through 2008. It's permitted to haul 200,000 tons of coal until the end of 2006. More trucks on the road means more concerns about noise, grime and safety for the families who live along County Road 27. Planning commissioners say that because much of the coal would be shipped out of state -- not directly benefiting the area -- Twentymile shouldn't be allowed to haul more coal on the road.
But Twentymile does directly benefit the area. It plays a significant role in the economic health of both counties. It's the biggest single source of tax revenue for Routt County. Sixty percent of the miners employed there live in Moffat County. Twentymile has an annual payroll, with benefits, in excess of $30 million. Much of that is pumped back into Moffat County's business sector, not to mention the untold millions in support services and supplies from here linked directly to the mine's operation.
"We try to be a good community citizen -- to do things safely and do things in a way compatible with the community and business -- and in return the mine brings a lot of money back into Northwest Colorado," said Ron Spangler, a spokesman for the mine.
Routt County Comm-issioner Doug Monger, who lives in Hayden, said he "was surprised" at the planning commission's recommendation, but said it showed a level a concern that commissioners will have to weigh carefully.
"Regarding the issue of whether Moffat County residents will have any input in the decision, we've already gotten a couple of letters that have been included in the public comment review," Monger said. "It's definitely a county issue, but there are regional overtones. We have regional economies and regional economies of scale and the input from Moffat County will be weighed and put into the mix."
In assessing a "regional quality of life," Monger said commissioners will gauge "revenue and impacts," effectively pitting the concerns of residents near the road against the potential loss of jobs if the mine had to scale back production.
"Being unemployed is not much better than having a bunch of trucks going by your house," Monger said.
It's a tough call, especially for our more environmentally sensitive neighbors to the east. It's hard to imagine Moffat County commissioners thinking twice if this was their decision. Moffat County residents appreciate the standard of living our biggest energy-related employers provide and Moffat County commissioners are quick to point out that more than half the county's revenue comes from tapping natural resources for energy production.
It's reassuring to hear Monger examining the issue from a regional standpoint. The Routt County commissioners don't have to care about what Moffat County residents think of their decision. But if they're willing to hear about the ramifications on this side of the county line, then we should be willing to speak up.
Contact the Routt County Board of Commissioners at P.O. Box 773598, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477, call 970-879-0108 or fax 970-879-3992.