The Molly Brown dragline moves rock Wednesday in the Z Pit at Trapper coal mine. Mine officials requested the federal government lower its required payments on coal production as part of a plan to extend the life of the mine. The request is awaiting review by Gov. Bill Ritter.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

The Molly Brown dragline moves rock Wednesday in the Z Pit at Trapper coal mine. Mine officials requested the federal government lower its required payments on coal production as part of a plan to extend the life of the mine. The request is awaiting review by Gov. Bill Ritter.

Trapper Mining seeks economic relief

Officials: Lower federal payments needed to extend mine's life

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At a glance

• Trapper Mining officials want the U.S. government to decrease the mine's required royalty payments on production.

• If the request is approved, it could allow the mine to operate for a longer time by making it economically viable to dig for deeper coal.

• Ray DuBois, Trapper Mining president and general manager, said current operational plans go through 2014, though the mine could remain open for a few years after that without lower royalty payments.

• If the request is approved, the mine's lifespan could be extended to about 2023.

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Graham Roberts, environmental health and safety specialist for Trapper Mining, talks Wednesday about day-to-day operations at the mine. Roberts is a third-generation Trapper employee, and his father still operates a dragline.

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The Queen Anne and Baby Doe draglines move rocks Wednesday at Trapper coal mine.

Trapper Mining officials want the coal mine to stay open, said Ray DuBois, Trapper Mining president and general manager.

However, economic conditions could cause the mine to close early unless the federal government gives Trapper a break on its royalty payments.

The U.S. government owns the mineral rights to the mine's coal and charges a royalty fee on the mine's production.

DuBois said he wants the government to reduce its fee, which may be the only way to make it economically viable to dig for deeper coal.

The more coal workers can dig for, the longer the mine stays open, DuBois said.

Mine officials have an operations plan that runs through 2014, he said, which includes a previously granted request for a lower royalty rate.

The Bureau of Land Management reduced Trapper's royalty payment from a standard 12.5 percent to 8 percent shortly after a landslide struck the mine in fall 2006. However, the request was for only half the mine's coal reserves, and that half is running out, DuBois said.

His company's request would extend the 4.5 percent reduction for the rest of the mine's coal reserves for the next eight years, or up to 22 million tons.

"We're not just blowing smoke when we say if we can get some relief here, we can actually extend the life of the mine," DuBois told the Moffat County Commission at its Tuesday meeting.

He appeared before the commission to ask for the local government's support on his company's request.

A portion of the federal government's mineral lease revenue goes back to states and counties. Federal authorities already have recommended the request be granted, but they want local officials' input because it would directly affect their budgets, too.

The commissioners unanimously approved signing a letter to Gov. Bill Ritter asking him to support the rate reduction, citing Trapper's importance to the area's economy.

"We've had that (year) of 2014 for quite a while, and now it's not that long out," Commissioner Tom Gray said. "It's a no-brainer for me to do this."

Trapper Mining is the county's eighth-largest property taxpayer, accounting for 5 percent of all assessed value in the county.

DuBois also told the Commission he could hire 15 to 20 additional employees if his company's request is approved, which would help the local economy remain stable during the country's recession.

Trapper Mining's relief request is not based on its own financial hardships, DuBois said.

The 2006 landslide illustrated burdensome geologic conditions that exist south of Craig, most notably the steep grade of the mine's pits. It costs money to work and ensure safety in such conditions, and there also are issues with fractures in the hills' rock structure, ground water containment and rock formations in the coal seams, DuBois said.

Those conditions are not "standard" for open-pit mines, he added, which is why a standard royalty rate should be amended.

The issue now awaits Ritter's opinion.

However, DuBois said Trapper will not last forever, even with the rate reduction.

Mine officials are eyeing 2023 as an approximate closure date if the U.S. government lowers its royalty on the remaining coal, DuBois said.

It's hard to say when the mine might close without a lower royalty, he added, but it would take "a few years" off its life.

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