A Strip Mine near Bryce?

Editors note- Numerous phone calls to Alton Coal for a response to this editorial were unreturned, and were finally met with a ‘no comment’.

It seems that some harebrained scheme related to land or energy development is always floating about in Utah. The latest such questionable proposal is for surface (strip) coal mine located less than ten miles west of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Alton Coal Development LLC – a private company of investors in Florida – is the proponent of this latest project that would put short-term gain above long-term interests. The initial phase of this endeavor would strip surface coal from 635 acres of private land near Alton, Utah. From that point the coal would be trucked to Cedar City. Hundreds of double-trailer trucks will pass through Panguitch nearly every day. The mine on private lands is expected to produce coal for approximately three years and then the project proponent hopes to expand on to public lands for an additional 3,500 acres.

There are a few problems with this mine. First, there are some questionable politics. Governor Gary Herbert’s campaign deposited a $10,000 check from Alton Coal Development the same day that the governor met with the leaders of, you guessed it, Alton Coal Development. The result of that meeting was that the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining – the state entity charged with regulating mining – sped up the permitting process.

Second, the state’s approval process has turned a blind eye to the major impacts that this mine could generate. Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its sweeping vistas and starry night skies. In fact, Bryce Canyon night sky conditions have been measured and show that conditions are virtually unaltered by human development; attaining what the National Park Service describes as “the theoretical natural darkness of 21.95 magnitudes per arc-second.” Cool. The only problem is that the state’s permitting process has ignored the potential effects to visibility and night skies from this mine. This despite the fact that a previous federal analysis found a possible substantial impact to these resources.

Furthermore, the state’s permitting process has not taken into account the likelihood that park visitors may shortly be hearing mining explosions mixed with the camera flashes and “oohs” and “ahhs” that normally accompany their stops at scenic vistas. The state has also ignored the likelihood that these massive coal haul trucks will seriously dampen tourists’ interest in driving along Highway 89 or visiting Panguitch.

The National Park Service has voiced many of these concerns regarding the proposal, to no avail.

The issues do not appear to fit into the state’s permitting process and so the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved a plan that will give little to Utah but exact a heavy toll.

“[W]hen coal mines come into communities, there is a negative impact on “Mom and Pop” retail businesses,” says Bobbi Bryant, a small business owner. “I own a shop that is right next to the haul route, and the noise and fumes from the trucks will make traveling to Bryce Canyon less pleasurable and much more dangerous… we could be faced with closing our business.”

However, there are still opportunities to prevent this extensive loss.

Opportunities for legal appeals as well as potential public involvement still remain, and we can use your help. To get involved today in the effort to stop this coal strip mine visit suwa.org.

Scott Braden

Associate Director

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

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