Energy Blend: Former Empire Mine decommissioning continues
November 3, 2018
CRAIG — The dust has settled following the demolition of the coal silo at Empire Mine south of Craig, but it could be two years or more until plans for the property are as clear as the sky above the old mine site.
Peabody Energy owns the inactive Williams Fork Mines Property — formerly Empire Mine — which is managed under a mining and reclamation plan and permit approved by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety.
"Given the proximity of the mine property to the Craig Branch-Line and state Highway 13, there is some possibility and potential for future industrial/commercial development of the property following site reclamation, however, current plans are focused on restoration to grazing and wildlife use," wrote Director of Corporate Communications Charlene Murdock in an email response to inquiries from the Craig Press.
Mine structures provided a landmark to many travelers, and for Craig residents, Empire Mine was a sure sign they were nearing home.
The first of the notable landmarks — a coal conveyor belt across Colorado Highway 13 — was removed in May 2017. That was followed by the first attempt — in November of that same year — to demolish the old silo. When the demolition failed, the leaning tower of Moffat County became a talking point until the structure was successfully demolished in April.
In a final show of strength, the silo at the old Empire Mine south of Craig refused to collapse during demolition that was attempted just after 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 20.After two attempts, the old silo finally came down, and now "decommissioning at the former Empire Mine is moving forward as planned. The contractor will continue removing structures to return the land to beneficial use for grazing and wildlife habitat," Murdock wrote.
A short branch-line and spur from the Union Pacific Craig Branch-Line previously served the mine and has now been removed.
Ongoing site reclamation and closure activities, according to Murdock, include the following:
• Sealing underground mine portals.
• Demolition and removal of all mine structures and facilities, except those that will remain to support post-mining land uses.
• Backfilling and grading of mine disturbance areas to a stable configuration consistent with natural drainage patterns.
• Replacement of soil materials and reseeding to establish self-sustaining vegetative cover.
• Monitoring and maintenance of reclaimed lands to reestablish productive post-mining conditions and uses consistent with the approved post-mining land uses of rangeland and wildlife habitat.
It is anticipated that active reclamation work will be completed during the next two years, according to Murdock. This effort will be followed by site monitoring and maintenance and the required bond-release applications.
"The project is aligned with Peabody's sustainability value of taking responsibility for the environment, benefitting our communities and restoring lands for generations that follow," Murdock wrote.
The mine was never operated by Peabody.
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Mining on what is now the Williams Fork Mines property is thought to have occurred as early as the 1890s and continued intermittently through 1995.
Formerly owned by the Silengo brothers, Empire Energy was formed in 1969 to purchase the brothers' namesake operation, according to newspaper archives provided by the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
The brothers later sold the mine.
The years that followed were marked by strikes and market volatility.
In 1984, when wages were threatened, miners at the Empire Coal Mine —owned by the Empire Energy Corp., a subsidiary of the Cyprus Coal Co., owned by Amoco Minerals — went on strike.
When the mine shut down, it was owned by Cyprus/Amax Mining corporation. At the time mining ceased in 1995, the two active mining areas were identified as the Eagle No. 5 and No. 9 Mines. The closure came a few years after another 11-month strike, one of the longest in Colorado history.
In 2004, Peabody purchased the shuttered mine that had been acquired by RAG Coal International. After purchasing the mine as part of a package of properties, Peabody considered re-opening it, according to Daily Press reporting in 2005, but those plans never materialized.
Since 1995, the property has remained on care and maintenance status, with ongoing site maintenance and environmental monitoring under the approved mining and reclamation permit, Murdock wrote.
Peabody made a decision to initiate final reclamation and closure activities in late 2016. The company spends about $50 million per year on reclamation across its operations platform.
"When it comes to the environment, we act in a sustainable manner, because it is both good business and the right thing to do," Murdock wrote.
Peabody is actively pursuing final reclamation and bond release for mine properties in Northwest Colorado where mining or related activities have been completed and where ongoing or future operations are not anticipated.
Of the approximately 5,600 acres that have been disturbed by all mining and related activities, 80 percent of these areas have been reclaimed, and 73 percent have received partial bond release.
"Peabody's sustainability approach begins with respect and responsibility for the land. The company has been recognized with 100 environmental honors since 2000," Murdock wrote.
Public access to the Williams Fork Mines property is restricted.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.