Community meeting on Colowyo takes place Wednesday night |

Community meeting on Colowyo takes place Wednesday night

Patrick Kelly
A Colowyo water tanker sprays water on a mine road in the west pit at the surface coal mine in order to reduce dust, as required by environmental law. At Wednesday's meeting, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will address the concerns about the future of the mine.
Noelle Leavitt Riley

A community meeting to discuss Colowyo Mine will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Moffat County High School’s auditorium, 900 Finley Lane.

The focus of the meeting is a recent federal court’s ruling stating the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement didn’t follow federal law when it issued mining permits to Colowyo Coal Company.

Federal District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled on a claim brought by the environmentalist group WildEarth Guardians against the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining.

In his ruling, Jackson stated that OSMRE did not comply with federal law when it approved mining plans for both Colowyo and Trapper mines nearly a decade ago.

Jackson provided OSMRE with 120 days to complete an environmental analysis for Colowyo mine complying with the National Environmental Policy Act. If the analysis is not completed within the timeframe, the mine will be ordered to halt operations — displacing 220 employees.

Tri-State intervened in the case. Its participation in the litigation continued on Friday when it announced an appeal of the judge’s ruling and requested a stay pending appeal.

Moffat and Rio Blanco County Commissioners are hosting the meeting and representatives from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will be giving an update on the current situation.

“In a small community rumors and misinformation can spread quickly, and we just want make sure everyone knows: A) What’s going on, and B) That we’re going to fight as hard as we can,” said Drew Kramer, public affairs manager for Tri-State.

Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe said it is crucial for the community to attend the meeting and show support for the mine.

“Our community’s entire future, economically, is on the line now and we need to stand up,” he said at Tuesday morning’s county commission meeting.

Craig Mayor Ray Beck and Meeker Mayor Regas Halandras will open the discussion, and Colowyo Mine Manager Chris McCourt will give an overview of the issue.

Beck echoed Moe’s statement on the importance of community participation.

“We need as many people there (Wednesday) night as possible in support of the coal industry,” he said.

Doug Lempke, senior environmental policy analyst for Tri-State, will provide a synopsis of the NEPA — the federal law under which WildEarth Guardians brought their claim against OSMRE.

Tri-State’s CEO will provide an update on the current actions being taken to address the situation and then there will be a question and answer period.

The meeting will conclude with remarks from Jeff Eskelsen, Rio Blanco county commissioner, and Chuck Grobe, Moffat County commissioner.

Christina Oxley, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said the gathering is important because it is the community’s chance to have dialogue with Tri-State.

“The more educated that we are about these issues and the more facts we have, the better decisions that we make as residents and consumers,” she said.

A second coal meeting will be held next week. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement will host a public participation meeting from 4 to 8 p.m. under the Moffat County Fairgrounds grandstands. The meeting is a step in the 120 day new analysis process that OSM has to take to continue mining at Colowyo.

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