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Mountain Coal seeks support for exploration

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Representatives of Mountain Coal Company on Monday asked the Board of County Commissioners for words of support as the North Fork mine begins once again the process of applying for a federal lease modification to explore for, and hopefully one day mine, new coal resources.

The company's plans for expansion were halted abruptly five years ago on the day before construction was to begin. A Denver judge had nullified Mountain Coal's federal agency approvals to explore coal reserves adjacent to its West Elk mining operation.

Subsequently, it has taken all that time since the judge's ruling for the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Mountain Coal Company to resolve issues raised by the judge and work their way back to square one on the lease modification application process.

Kathy Welt, environmental compliance officer with Mountain Coal, explained that the coal is located under the Sunset Trail Roadless Area, but it is also part of the North Fork Coal Mining Exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule. The exception allows temporary roads to be used for exploration in the area. The North Fork Coal Mining Exception was finally reinstated fully on April 18, Welt said.

The Delta County Commissioners have a history of strong support for the area's coal industry. Commissioner Doug Atchley said no decision could be made at Monday's meeting, but he added the board would take the request under advisement and make a decision on a statement of support at a later date.

Also at Monday's session, Weston Norris of Mountain Coal asked for the commissioners support on another issue: a 3 percent royalty rate reduction request to the federal government. He explained that the coal seams the company will be surveying, and possibly one day mining, are known to be interlaced with rock deposits that will increase costs of development. Therefore, a reduction in the royalty payments on the coal mined there is needed to make it a profitable project for the company.

Norris said Mountain Coal will sell 4.5 million tons of coal this year, but that buyers have not yet signed contracts for future coal deliveries and "there is no committed market" yet beyond that point.

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