North Fork towns are working to meet the approaching deadline for commenting to the Bureau of Land Management regarding implementation of a moratorium on new coal leasing. The moratorium remains in place while a full comprehensive review of possible reforms to the industry is carried out by the Department of the Interior, which oversees coal leasing programs.
The moratorium does not apply to existing coal production activities.
Representatives from area governments, businesses, organizations and the public attended a June 22 public scoping meeting in Grand Junction, one of six held throughout the country.
"The impact is substantial," said Paonia mayor Charles Stewart, who along with trustee Bill Bear attended the scoping meeting. "We are losing our middle class, and it is the middle class that pays the bills."
Stewart named a long list of effects that the town and Delta County face if coal mining is halted in the North Fork area. "Basically they are looking at increasing royalties and essentially adding some significant burdens to a coal industry that is struggling," said Stewart. He added that each of the many representatives from Delta County cited impacts to the area due to the loss of coal mining jobs. He reminded the public that the town's recent water distribution system upgrades were paid for by energy impact assistance grants.
Stewart noted that the town at one point received about $115,000 per year in severance taxes and mineral leasing fees. This year, they expect to receive $45,000 or less.
"The millions and millions of dollars lost through the damage that this government has done to this industry will have a dramatic effect on our communities," said Bear, a life-long Paonia resident. "I would like to see the Town of Paonia support the industry. The coal industry has offered a lot for this town... We will feel it in our pocketbooks for the months and years to come and we will see that the funds that we've been used to spending are going to dry up."
Hotchkiss trustees approved a letter at the July 14 council meeting, and Crawford mayor Wanda Gofforth said the town is concerned with the effects the decline in mining is having to the town and has also drafted a letter to the BLM.
"It seems to me that the coal that's coming out of the North Fork Valley certainly has a place in this country's future energy needs," said Stewart of the area's high-quality bituminous coal. "I would strongly suggest that folks that are concerned about the coal industry here in the North Fork Valley... make their comments to the BLM."
Comments should be received no later than July 28 and may be submitted by e-mail at: BLM_WO_Coal_Program_PEIS_Comments@blm.gov or mailed to:
Coal Programmatic EIS Scoping
Bureau of Land Management20 M St. SE, Room 2134 LM
Washington, D.C. 20003.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.