UPDATED: Last show of strength for Empire Mine in Moffat County; silo still standing after failed demolition attempt
November 20, 2017
Editor’s note: This story has been updated
CRAIG — 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.
Many Moffat County residents felt the blast and shared their experiences on Facebook.
"It shook us out of bed. I ran outside in my pajamas. I thought the garage had exploded," said Mike Mack, first on Facebook, then during an interview with the newspaper.
Mack was employed by the mine from 1974 until 1996. He was one of the last four employees responsible for pulling equipment from underground and now lives about 7 miles from the old mine.
The demolition of the silo is part of an on-going effort by mine owner — Peabody Energy — to decommission the facility.
"While Peabody did not operate the mine, the coal mine reclamation project is part of Peabody's commitment to return coal mined lands to beneficial use. The work includes removal of structures that are not viable for future beneficial use, including a silo, which will be dismantled. Over the past decade, Peabody has spent $185 million to restore approximately 48,000 acres of land," said Director of Corporate Communications Charlene Murdock, in an emailed response to inquiries from the Craig Press.
"Our restoration efforts have been marked by 90 environmental honors since 2000," added Murdock.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has approved all work, and all applicable permits are in place.
“Peabody has engaged a third-party contractor to decommission the Empire Mine and restore the lands for reuse,” Murdock said.
Scheduling the demolition attempt was dependent on several factors, including weather. It is not yet known why the silo failed to collapse.
Murdock wrote in an email Monday afternoon, "Peabody's first value is safety, and the site has been secured to maintain a safe perimeter. The decommissioning process will continue with remote-controlled equipment."
The structure was thought to be unusually strong.
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"The original pour was real bad, so they left the original forms and poured it again, causing it to be two to three times as thick. The rest of the pour was good. They put those cables around it to keep it a stronger structure. They didn't cut those cables. I think if they had cut those cables, then it would have gone over," Mack said.
Formerly owned by the Silengo brothers, Empire Mine was once a major employer for Moffat County, with a staff of more than 200 before it ceased operations in 1995. Area residents have long speculated that the closure was the result of a coal fire still burning in the mine, though Mack disagrees.
"The coal fire didn't affect the mine. It was burning while we were mining coal. It was closed due to politics; the company trying to break the union," Mack said.
He said he has mixed emotions about the decommissioning.
“I knew it would eventually have to happen,” Mack said. “It's kind of sad to go out there and not see anything in place, but things go on.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.