Colowyo Coal Company prepares to dig into Collom expansion south of Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Colowyo Coal Company prepares to dig into Collom expansion south of Craig

A haul truck moves a large quantity of coal to a coal stock pile within Colowyo Coal Company north of Meeker in 2014.

MEEKER — Colowyo Coal Company is preparing to mine the first coal from the Collom Pit. The company is still awaiting one final stamp of approval in the form of an air quality permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health an Environment.

The company expects to make the first box cut on the expansion in October, which is the first step in excavating the ground to get to the coal seams. Coal is expected to begin coming out of the pit in January.

"The Collom Project can extend Colowyo's operations up to another 35 years, so there are significant amounts of coal available to be recovered," said Lee Boughey, a spokesperson for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the company that operates the mine.

In a presentation at the State of the Community in Craig earlier this year, Colowyo leadership said there are 89 million tons of recoverable coal in 21 coal seams, ranging in thickness from two to 12 feet. To reduce environmental impacts, the company will mine the coal in one pit instead of two.

Since April 2017, the company has been developing infrastructure in the area, including roads, transmission lines, culverts and water pipelines to support operations in the Collom Pit. A 69-kilovolt transmission line has already been completed by White River Electric Association. The remaining infrastructure is expected to be complete by October and includes a coal-crushing plant, water storage facility and 5.5-mile haul road to carry coal out of the pit.

The Collom Pit is located two to three miles northwest of the South Taylor Pit, which is currently being mined. Boughey said there is about four years worth of coal left to mine in the South Taylor Pit.

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Colowyo will mine both pits for about five years; more coal will initially be produced from the South Taylor Pit, before the mine fully transitions to Collom. The South Taylor pit will then enter full-reclamation. Colowyo has completed reclamation on the first pit it mined, the East Pit, which was mined from 1977 to 2006. The West Pit, which was mined from 1994 to 2014, is undergoing reclamation.

The reclamation process includes replacing the overburden, the deep soils and rocks removed from above a coal seam in the pit, then replacing topsoil and re-seeding the area with native species. The area is expected to undergo reclamation through 2029.

It remains unclear how the closure of Unit 1, a coal-fired generation unit at Craig Station, will affect Colowyo's operations. Craig Station burns between four and a half and five million tons of coal annually. Most of the coal comes in nearly equal parts from Trapper Mine and Colowyo Mine.

In an April meeting with community leaders, Tri-State leadership said Tri-State was exploring selling coal from Colowyo to new markets. At the time, the company was testing how Colowyo coal burns at the company’s Escalante Generating Station in New Mexico.

“Generally speaking, we’ll probably need one third less coal, but we can’t say how that’s going to impact the mines yet. We don’t know exactly," said Drew Kramer, senior external affairs advisor at Tri-State in a meeting earlier this year. “In future years, it (Colowyo) might be providing less to Craig Station, but it might be providing coal elsewhere."

Boughey said Tri-State is “continuing to look at other opportunities in the market” to sell Colowyo coal.

"We all know how important the jobs at both the mine and Craig Station are,” Boughey said. “The support that we received from the community was really important to help us be able to move forward with this project and sustain those jobs and that investment and help support the region’s economy for many years to come.”

Contact Eleanor Hasenbeck at 970-875-1795. Follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.