Report outlines benefits of coal industry in region | CraigDailyPress.com

Report outlines benefits of coal industry in region

Matt Stensland

Twentymile Coal Co. employees attend a briefing before starting their shifts underground.

— Coal is big business in Northwest Colorado, according to a new report prepared for economic developers in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

"It's a major economic contributor," Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Jim Clark said. "You have to think if all those jobs went away, what would the impact be?"

The study measured the economic impact of coal mines and coal-powered power plants in the three counties.

The study was primarily funded by the Economic Development Council of Colorado and was sponsored by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The coal industry did not contribute funds for the study. Colorado Economist Gary Horbath with http://www.cber.co compiled the research.

"I think it's important that the economic developers are looking at it," Horbath said. "It's a very important industry for the community up there."

Horbath found that coal mining directly employs 4.6 percent of the region's total employees and accounts for 17.4 percent, or $478.6 million, of the region's gross regional product, which is the value of the goods and services produced in the region.

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There are 1,545 people directly employed by the industry with an average wage of $85,481.

"The thing that really struck me was the wage," Clark said. "That's a lot of money coming into the economy."

There are four coal mines in the region. Twentymile Mine is in Routt County. Trapper Mine is in Moffat County. Colowyo Mine is in Moffat County and Rio Blanco County, and the Deserado Mine is in Rio Blanco County.

According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, coal mine property accounts for 8.6 percent of property tax revenue in Moffat County, 2.1 percent in Rio Blanco County and 5.6 percent in Routt County.

Electricity generation, which uses both coal and gas locally, directly employs 571 people, or 1.7 percent of the region’s employees, and contributes $441.3 million, or 16 percent, to the regional domestic product. The Hayden Station power plant is in Routt County, and the Craig Station is in Moffat County.

Audrey Danner, director of the Craig and Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, said it was important for the communities to have solid data about the impacts from the industry because it will help them discuss and understand their economies.

While none of the mines or power plants have threatened to close, Danner said the coal industry is threatened by government intervention that has decreased the demand for coal with lower-priced natural gas.

In 2014, coal production in Moffat County was flat compared to the previous year but down 8 percent in Routt County. It was the least amount of coal produced in records going back to 2001.

The Denver Post recently reported that coal production in the state reached a 20-year low.

Clark said having the data from the economic impact report will help economic development groups make the case for coal to state and federal politicians. Clark said he sent the report to a representative of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The full study can be viewed by clicking here.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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