Alton, UT – The public has an opportunity this week to weigh in on a proposal to expand a coal strip mine near Alton in southern Utah's Kane County. The mine has been operating on private land, but its owners have asked the Bureau of Land Management for permission to expand onto more than three thousand acres of public land surrounding the current operation. That request has brought out many local residents expressing a variety of strong views.Since issuing a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed mine expansion, B-L-M officials have been getting an earful from opponents of the plan. Bobbi Bryant owns Bronco Bobbi's clothing store on Highway 89 in Panguitch. She drove out to a hillside overlooking the mine near the Kane-Garfield County line to point out what she says are broken promises by the mine operators. "They promised putting in equipment repair facilities and none of that's been done", she says. "And, to date, they were supposed to build construction sites and wash bays, et cetera, none of that's been done. There's a construction shanty and a Porta-Potti and generators running their lights. We were promised employment. I think, to date, we've had between five and seven people that have been employed."
But opposition to the plan is by no means unanimous. The B-L-M has been holding informal open house meetings on the project in both Kane and Garfield counties, leading up to a formal hearing in Cedar City this week. At the meeting in the Garfield County seat of Panguitch, local residents Wally Dodds and Tyce Palmer argued the other side of the controversy, saying this area of southern Utah needs the kind of economic boost expanding the mine would provide. "I think it's positive . . . positive thing," says Dodds. " I think they've done everything they needed to do to cover their bases as far as meeting requirements from EPA and their E-I-S's are all in order. I think it's a good thing, it's something that we need.
Palmer adds,"Garfield County's one of the most depressed counties in the state of Utah, so we need a good economy and at the same time, we feel like our bases are covered protecting the natural resource base."
Bryce Canyon National Park, just north of Panguitch, is one of the economic engines of Garfield County. Opponents of the project have pointed out in their public comments that the border of the park is just ten miles away from the proposed expansion of the coal mine. But mountain ridges between the park and the mine mean it can't be seen from any area of park that's visited regularly. Critics also argue the lights from the mine would affect the pristine nighttime vistas there, but rangers and others who conducting regular nighttime star exhibitions say they won't have a detectable effect on that experience for visitors.
While the management of Alton Coal Development declined an interview for this story, they did issue a written statement saying the mine will eventually employ 160 people - 100 in mine operations and another sixty in trucking. Eventually, it says the mine will provide annual wages of 6.5 million dollars and almost 200-million dollars in royalties. The statement did not address any specific criticisms about truck traffic through local communities or potential effects on the environment of Bryce Canyon.
Bruce McMahan owns the antique shop Grandma's Cottage, another tourist-oriented business in Panguitch. He's among those who say expanding the mine will affect the visitors he depends on - and he also says it's a step in the wrong direction, continuing the nation's reliance on dirty, carbon-based fossil fuels. "I basically think the opposition that you're going to see rise up will be, in greater numbers, on that same level, from all over the globe," says McMahan. "And people that have a concern and want to see true progress made in terms of how public lands are used and how the resources in those particular areas are managed."
The Bureau of Land Management plans a public hearing on the coal mine expansion plan in Cedar City tomorrow night at the Festival Hall Convention Center. There's also an open house in Salt Lake City on Wednesday at the downtown Salt Lake City library.
The Bureau of Land Managements Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Coal Hollow mine expansion