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Big Pivots: Craig’s shift from coal

Craig has a big river. Can it gain a name as a tourism destination for boaters? A new federal grant should help.

Allen Best
Big Pivots
Good Vibes River Gear, located at 410 W Victory Way in Craig aims to be a face of the community as the local economy is shifting from coal-power production to a more diverse range of industries.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

If the changes still seem dwarfed by the size of the challenge before Craig, Colorado’s most coal-dependent town has begun to prepare for the day when the mines and the power plants shut down. News of two modifications of the local economy have been reported, both about water.

The Craig Press reports that the city and Moffat County have received a $3.3 million federal grant that will help create river-based amenities that could allow greater development of its tourism-based economy.

The money will be used to upgrade the city’s water intake infrastructure and also a new concrete boat ramp, more parking for boat trailers and other enhancements.



An end game of this work will be creation of a whitewater park, such as was pioneered in Golden a couple decades ago. Any number of other riverside towns and cities in Colorado — from Breckenridge to Vail to Glenwood Springs and beyond — have followed suit. A 2006 study in Durango estimated that whitewater recreation created 33 jobs and $1 million in annual sales. In the Sierra Nevada, the town of Truckee reported economic benefits ranging from$1.9 million to $4.1 million.

The diversion dam for the city municipal intake has been an obstacle. The Press says the 200-foot wide and 10-foot high barrier is in disrepair but also poses a hazard for boaters. Too, it blocks passage for numerous fish species, several of which are federally listed endangered species.



Replacing the current diversion dam with a natural channel design will allow the city to continue to draw its allotted water from the river and will improve boater safety and year-round fish passage.

The whitewater park and other amenities are part of the Yampa River Corridor Project and, more broadly, part of the Moffat County Vision 2025 Transition Plan. That document, which was adopted in September 2020, identified key focus areas, with tourism topping the list: “Bring more visitors to the area who stop and stay. Invest money to market Moffat County as a tourist destination, promote a Paleo Museum, and capitalize outdoor recreation.”

The federal funds come from a $300 million piece of a $3 billion piece that was the American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress in 2021. State and local funds will add $1.4 million to the project. Craig estimates the project will create 129 jobs.

Nearby Hayden also got $4.2 million in federal funds to pay for road and water infrastructure improvements as necessary to develop an industrial park.

And a distillery too

The Craig Press also reports a new distillery planned by Wade Gerber and Sean Hovorka, who are both in leadership roles within the local coal industry.

Earlier this year, the pair purchased a building that they plan to transform into a business called Bad Alibi. They plan a 500-gallon distillery that will produce vodka, gin and different kinds of whiskey.

Gerber has been the maintenance supervisor of the power plant since 2004. Hovorka is the production superintendent at Trapper Mine.

The names of the product will be inspired by local history, which is rich with stories of bank robbers, cowboys and cattle rustlers.

Hydrogen hopes continue in northwestern Colorado and elsewhere in Rockies

Interest remains in developing a hydrogen hub at the site of Craig Station as after its three coal-burning units are taken out of production beginning in 2025.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the operator of the plant, and others had applied for federal funds to pursue a green hydrogen pilot. The grant was not awarded.

Now comes a new effort by utilities and state governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah to secure additional funds available as a result of the federal infrastructure funding package to create hydrogen hubs across the country.

Freshwater News explains that the partnership of the four states was struck in March to compete with other regions of the country for the fedral financing. The process is likely to take months, if not years, to complete, reports Freshwater’s Jerd Smith.

“We’re listening to every and all options,” said Tri-State spokesman Mark Stutz. “We will be a small player in this. But we have a site, and we believe Craig is a good location because of the transmission, water and site availability.”

Hydrogen can be produced in several ways, including through the use of natural gas. Green hydrogen, the subject of the proposal at Craig, is made from water using electrolysis, explains Smith. “The oxygen separated out of the water can be vented, leaving the hydrogen, a fluid that can be stored in tanks or, as in a demonstration project in Utah, in salt caverns. The hydrogen can then be tapped later as a fuel source to produce electricity or, for that matter, put into pipelines for distribution fueling stations.”

However, strength of pipelines may need to be upgraded.

In late August, the coalition of states released a request for expression of interest. This is to solicit input from key stakeholders about creating a regional clean hydrogen hub.

Allen Best
Big Pivots/Courtesy photo

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 720.415.9308.


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