Coal miners react to Colowyo lawsuit |

Coal miners react to Colowyo lawsuit

Noelle Leavitt Riley
At Wednesday night's meeting regarding Colowyo Coal Mine, Craig Mayor Ray Beck asked miners in the audience to stand. Beck then requested a round of applause for the work they do.
Noelle Leavitt Riley

Kim and Nick Davis bought their dream home in Craig two months ago. They’d been waiting a long time to afford the house. They finally got it.

Nick Davis works at Colowyo Coal Mine, and the recent federal court ruling against the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement regarding Colowyo shook their family plans, making them wonder if they’ll have to leave the community they’ve called home all their lives. If Colowyo closes, they could lose everything.

“How are we going to afford this mortgage?” Kim Davis asked, noting they have two young boys and that she makes only $700 a month. Without her husband’s income, they won’t survive financially. “This was a big house purchase for us. I want my kids to grow up here. I feel like I’m being forced into something with no cause.”

The couple attended Wednesday night’s meeting hoping to get answers about what’s next for the mine — which still is not clear.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association owns the coal-fired power plant Craig Station and it also owns Colowyo Coal Mine. The company filed an appeal against the ruling that gave OSMRE 120 days to go through an environmental analysis process.

The community still doesn’t know if the appeal will change anything.

Jim Hatfield also works at Colowyo, and he’s equally concerned about the mine closing.

“It would devastate my family,” he said. “We’d probably be forced to move.”

Hatfield said there’s a lot of distraction at the mine because employees don’t know the future of their jobs.

The implications of Colowyo closing stretch beyond the coal mine.

Craig Station relies on Colowyo for 45 percent of its coal. The other 45 percent comes from Trapper Mine, located near Craig, and the remaining 10 percent comes from contracts with other mines, said Rich Thompson, power plant manager.

“Everyone (at the power plant) is nervous about it,” Thompson said.

On Wednesday, Moffat and Rio Blanco County Commissioners hosted a public forum with representatives from Tri-State to address the issue.

The meeting brought workers from Trapper Coal Mine, Craig Station, Hayden Station and Twentymile Coal Mine in Routt County. It also brought contract workers who repair and build equipment at Colowyo, including Ron Zumwalt who works for Joy Global.

The company is currently building a new dragline for the mine, and Zumwalt said the mine closing would handicap his company.

“It would have a major effect on our company as well as our whole region,” he said.

Kim Davis said her dad, who lives in Hayden, would also feel the affects of any major setbacks at Colowyo.

“My dad works for Caterpillar. He sells the mine parts at Colowyo,” she said.

James Campos, who operates a loader at Colowyo, can’t make sense of the lawsuit.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why are they doing this?”

Reach Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or Follow her on Twitter @noelleleavitt.

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