Alton Coal Strip Mine in the News
|Bobbi Bryant of Panguitch as photographed by Rick Egan - Salt Lake City Tribune
McEntee: Proposed strip coal mine weighs heavily in Panguitch
Updated Jul 1, 2010 03:00PM
- The Salt Lake Tribune
There's an aura to Garfield County - its crystalline air, the
hills and valleys green with native grasses, piñon and juniper trees, and the clouds that hover in the bluest sky
you'll ever see.
But the prospect of a strip coal mine about
30 miles to the west has many people in the county seat asking questions and worried sick.
Alton Coal Co.'s proposed Coal Hollow Mine would be the first strip mine in Utah. It's planned for
a 675-acre plot of private land just over the border in Kane County, although its principals have requested approval to
expand operations on 3,580 adjacent acres of federal land.
the mining plan, the stripping would be done in pieces; once one slice is tapped out, it would be infilled with dirt from
the next slice, and so on. The backers promise 150 new jobs - a temptation in an area with high unemployment - and 50 of
them would be drivers of huge coal hauling trucks.
is a source of fear in Panguitch, a once tired little town that has been transforming itself into a tourist magnet with
shops, restaurants, motels and bed-and-breakfasts.
is, the Alton mine plan calls for about 300 trucks, 24 hours a day, six days a week, to roll down Highway 89, right through
town, on their way to a railroad spur just west of Cedar City. The coal then would go to the West Coast for shipping, although
the company hasn't said where.
To Bobbi Bryant, owner of
Bronco Bobbi's, that's just crazy.
would ruin what she and other business owners have worked for, she says. “No one could even cross the street!”
Big semis already come through town regularly,
and many can’t make the turn through the only intersection without veering into the oncoming lane.
Bobbi worries about the safety of school kids and tourists,
many of them international travelers unaccustomed to American streets, let alone giant trucks.
Not to mention the noise and vibration. I can attest to the horrors of that. Earlier
this week, I spent a couple of nights in Gunnison, where coal trucks also run through night and day. My motel room was,
oh, 30 feet from the highway, and there was very little sleeping for me.
And there are other worries — air quality, pollution in streams, the survivability of the
elk, deer and antelope whose migration routes already are bisected by Highway 89. Bobbi told me that one recent day, she
saw six deer dead on the highway, which already has a lot of big trucks and tour buses.
Imagine, she said, how the coal trucks would clog the highway, which also is used
by motorcyclists and bicyclists.
area also is part of a breeding ground, called a lek, for sage grouse. They’re candidates for the federal endangered
species list, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said they have no chance of being protected any time soon, given the
backlog of threatened species.
to a former national park ranger like Bruce McMahan, the risks are just too great. He’s worked in parks from the Everglades
to Carlsbad Cavern, and now is a property owner and manager in town.
He and Bobbi are among many Panguitch residents who oppose the mine. Others disagree, seeing, as
does Mayor Janet Oldham, the opportunity for employment in a county with a 10.4 percent jobless rate. The mayor did not
return my phone calls for comment.
these and other shopkeepers wonder if the opportunities are really there. All ask, in a time when experienced miners and
drivers are out of work, if the mining company would train new workers or turn to the pros.
Of deep concern is Bryce Canyon National Park, just 10 miles to the southwest of
the proposed mine. Its air quality, visibility and clarity of the night skies already has been diminished by growth in St.
George, Cedar City and surrounding areas.
Bureau of Land Management, which is working on an environmental impact statement, has said it is taking particular notice
of regional and local air quality and visibility.
photographer Rick Egan and I drove out to try and find the private land where the mine would be. We’re not sure we
found it, but we did see a broad valley with a gate and cattle. The grass stood 3 feet high, and off in the distance, we
could see cliffs of deep coral just east of Bryce.
It was nothing but pleasure to stand there, to breathe deeply of the air. It was nothing but heartbreaking
to imagine any of this changed by a strip mine.
Beckie Gregg, proprietor of the Thunder Horses Mercantile, doesn’t believe the mine will ever open.
For one thing, she said, “it’s insane.”
For another, Panguitch is part of a cultural and historical area, and its long been part of the Utah Heritage Highway project
intended to rejuvenate the length of Highway 89.
The mine company owners “didn’t bargain for us because we are not idiots,” Beckie
said. “My gut tells me they weren’t prepared for the opposition.”
I’ve been all over Southern Utah, and I’m particularly fond of Garfield
County. Allowing a strip mine in this territory would be nothing short of desecration.