Groups File Appeal To Block Coal Mine Near Bryce Canyon National Park

A number of conservation groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, has asked the Utah Supreme Court to order a halt to work at a surface coal mine located roughly 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park as the raven flies.

The Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining late last month approved a permit for Alton Coal Development, LLC, to begin gouging into a seam of coal near the tiny hamlet of Alton located southwest of Bryce Canyon. The company hopes to mine upwards of 2 million tons of coal annually from the seam over the next 3-5 years. At the same time, it is pursuing leases to tens of millions of tons of coal on an adjacent 3,600 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, leases that would greatly extend the mine's operations.

Late Wednesday afternoon a "petition for emergency review" was filed with the state Supreme Court by the NPCA, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In that document the groups maintain that the board cleared the way for mining despite the fact that the company had failed to describe how it would monitor hydrological impacts created by the mining.

"(T)here simply is no description of how monitoring data will be used to implement ADC's (Alton Coal Development) operations plan," the petition states. "Consequently, the ability of the division or the public to determine damage to the hydrologic balance as a result of ACD's mining is uncertain, and disagreements concerning the use of monitoring data may forestall or undercut efforts to address hydrologic damage."

Additionally, the petition argues that the division failed to take into consideration adverse impacts the mining might bring to Panguitch, a nearby town listed on the National Register of Historic Places and through which 300 coal trucks a day might be traveling once full production gets under way.

The coal company also failed to obtain clearances from the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) that the mining would not impact the town, the petition continues. It also points out that SHPO officials "believed that the impacts to Panguitch needed to be addressed before the division approved the state permit."

While the mine site cannot be seen from Bryce Canyon, and though the coal trucks will not pass by the park, the groups and even National Park Service officials are concerned about how dust kicked up from the mining and bright lighting used to facilitate night-time operations might impact the incredibly dark skies over the park that lure many visitors for astronomy programs.

The mine is located near Alton, just off U.S. 89, a scenic byway that vacationers travel between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. One of the concerns opponents have is how upwards of 300 tandem coal trucks a day -- traveling 24 hours a day, six days a week -- would impact travel on that road.

Vacationers coming south along Interstate 15 also would travel part of the same route the coal trucks are expected to run. Only visitors coming to Bryce Canyon from the east via Utah Highway 12 would not encounter the trucks.

"The board's ruling needlessly puts one of Utah's treasured landscapes, Bryce National Park, at risk,” said Karen Hevel-Mingo, the program coordinator in NPCA's Southwest office, based in Salt Lake City. “Thousands of visitors come to Bryce each year to marvel at the pristine night skies and beautiful vistas. Bryce National Park is also an important contributor to local economies."

Comments

Is this strip mine located along the scenic byway or another major route to the park? The objections are not clear to me from this article.

The mine is located near Alton, just off U.S. 89, a scenic byway that vacationers travel between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. One of the concerns is how upwards of 300 tandem coal trucks a day -- traveling 24 hours a day, six days a week -- would impact travel on that road.

People heading to Bryce from Zion must travel this route. Those coming south along Interstate 15 also will travel part of the same route the coal trucks are expected to run. Only those coming from the east via Highway 12 would not encounter the trucks.

I'll add an insert to the story to make that clear.

I can't imagine a worse place to put a coal mine. This area is full of scenic byways. US 89, also know as the Mt Carmel Scenic Byway (http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2025/), is the major road joing Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs as well as the Marble Canyon. And right at the area under discussion is the junction of US 89 with UT 14, the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2021/). This road connects US-89 with I-15 at Cedar City. It goes right past the road to Cedar Breaks NM. I can see them using this road as the main access to I-15. To have 300 huge coal trucks traveling down UT 14 every day would be a sin. If the coal must be developed, then maybe a rail line would be the best way to access the area. Rail lines have a much smaller footprint than roads. They, for the most part, do not interfere with traffic and they don't bring the development that roads do. Of course, my vote is to look for coal elsewhere.

We will not be happy until we have defiled every last vestige of nature! And get used to it, with pro business politicians gaining ground the degradation will accelerate. If we put effort into green energy we could certainly slow the march to the tipping point. But there is not as much sort term profit in that approach.

This was the topic of a good article in this morning's Salt Lake Tribune. Try Googling the Tribune so you can read it. Also read the comments following the article. This is an issue that is causing a lot of divisive argument in southern Utah -- particularly in towns along the truck route.

Another very hot topic in Utah just before the recent election was the news that our incumbent -- and re-elected -- governor, Gary Herbert, fast tracked the permit process for the mine almost immediately after he received a $10,000 campaign contribution from the mine's owners. Unfortunately, some very heavy handed negative campaign ads by his opponent probably tipped the election even more heavily in Herbert's direction. Herbert also had a big letter R after his name on the ballot.

I think I'm correct in saying that the mine won't be directly visible from Bryce's southern overlooks. It's hidden by a ridge or two, but its dust will certainly have some impact.

Here is a article on this project: http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Coal_Hollow_Mine. And another one: http://www.altoncoalmine.com/id2.html. And yet another one from last February: http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=9565700&pid=2.

Evidently, instead of using UT 14, the trucks will ge going up US 89 to UT 20, right through Panguitch. The town folks ought to love that.

I grew up in Southern Utah and have spent most of my life hiking and hunting in its hills. But, sadly I have not been able to do any of the hiking or hunting of late, and the reason? I have had to travel the western U.S. in search of work. There is not enough to to go around. I am a 5th generation Southern Utahn and can't even work in my homeland. So, for all of you people that like to come here and tell me that I can't build new homes and businesses, why don't you just stay home, quit polluting my air with all of your vehicles and leave me and my family to OUR peaceful land.

It is important to understand that Highway 89 that runs through Utah is the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area highway, a federally designated national scenic byway and historic highway. It is not only the section of 89 between Zions and Bryce that will be affected. Alton wants to make 300 coal trips per day up 89 from Alton, through Panguitch, across 20 to 15 and south on 15 to Cedar City.
89 is a narrow 2 lane highway. To allow 300 coal trucks per day on 89 will be setting up a killing field, quite literally. It will not take long before the word is out that tourists will be sandwiched between bumper to bumper coal trucks, on a narrow 2 lane highway, that people will decide it is not worth the effort.
Much time and effort went into getting the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area established. It is interesting that the city council of Panguitch is perfectly willing to sell out the town of Panguitch and any support of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Highway, but.... they are perfectly willing to take funds from the MPNHA, hundreds of thousands so far.
The MPNHA could be built into a large tourist draw, but not if half of it is being sold out to use for transporting coal. A coal mine in Emery County recently laid off close to 200 people, and closed. WHY on earth would Herbert back Alton in a STRIP MINE, the first in the State. Oh, might it be the payoffs that Alton has given Herbert, those, uh, "campaign contributions"?
The website for the MPNHA is: mormonpioneerheritage.org

Are you saying that only those traveling on 12 from the south or from the north, the Boulder Loop portion of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area highway, will avoid the trucks? Anyone heading for 12 to go to Bryce will have coal trucks, whether coming from the North or the South on 89.

Currently, the plan does not call for coal trucks to run on Utah 12, so if you're heading to Bryce Canyon from Capitol Reef, for example, you shouldn't encounter any. But, if you use 89 to reach 12, you would expect to encounter the trucks.

330 trucks a day is 12.5 per hour or one every 12 minutes along a rather narrow, mostly two-lane highway with some very steep grades in places.

Those trucks will pound pavement to pieces. They will slow down on upgrades, will road downhill at breakneck speed and certainly won't use pull-outs to let other traffic pass. Other drivers will lose patience and try to pass when it's not safe.

So it won't be long before roads will need repaving and the local chambers of commerce will be howling for widening roads to at least three lanes. Hospitals will need to increase the size of their emergency rooms.

And who will pay for all this?

Not the coal company . . . .

I agree, U.S. 89 is not meant to handle that capacity of heavy equipment and it would endanger the Utah tourism industry. It appears as though the mine would not be a threat to the park itself or an eyesore to those visiting the parks. Is it possible to mandate that the coal truck traffic be re-routed? I live in an area that experiences heavy truck traffic and I am also aware of the eyesore that strip mining can be, without proper reclamation. I am also aware of the jobs provided by coal and the energy that coal provides to our country. Is anyone trying to reach compromise?

Well, it's easy to sit in your polluted cities, driving your Ford Valdez SUV's, driving one person per vehicle to work, and living in your urban sprawl neighborhoods to sit back and throw stones. The reality of it is this, the Mine is 50 miles via the highway from the entrance to Bryce Canyon. The 12 miles as the crow flies is through rugged terrain that rarely sees Man's footprints. Unfortunately, this area has no blue collar work at all. If your lucky you get a job as a Janitor at the school, if your really lucky you get a job pounding delineator posts for UDOT. This area needs jobs, it needs industry. The area being discussed is not even visible from any major thoroughfare. Yes there will be coal trucks, if you have ever driven this segment of road from Alton to Hwy 20 you will notice it is already a major thoroughfare for semi traffic. This is the most direct route for a semi to get from Phoenix to Northern Utah. It is already very heavily travelled by commercial vehicles. I have lived in Central Utah for 40 of my 42 years, I have seen hundreds of small businesses fail, and thousands of young families move away because of lack of opportunities. Interestingly enough the folks that are doing all the crying and protesting this are those who have run away from their big city screwed up lives and bought their piece of heaven and now want to shut the gates to keep the rest of the folks out. There are far more protestors from Norther Utah Big City livers than from the area affected. I have no respect for you all, you have already screwed up your section of the planet, don't tell us how to run ours!!

Darin B -- Maybe people who live in the cities amid the sprawl and crud, are more aware than you how precious a thing you have where you are lucky enough to live. There's a lot of truth in what you say here, but on the other hand, it's vital that any time we all look to the future, we seek the BEST possible solutions for long-term success. Perhaps there may be ways that the Alton project can move forward in a framework that will provide that kind of outcome. But as it stands right now, many of us are not sure that's the case.

I, too, lived many years in southern Utah and on the Arizona strip. I have had many friends who faced exactly the same things you and your neighbors now face. But what is gained by making things worse while seeking only temporary benefits?

Your last sentence says a lot: "I have no respect for you all, you have already screwed up your section of the planet, don't tell us how to run ours!! "

Why can't we Americans find a way to respect even those who disagree with us? Might that not allow us to seek sensible solutions to large problems rather than trying to just trample opposition into the mud?

Is it possible that those who now must live in cities are able to painfully recognize just how badly we have screwed up our sections of the planet and are trying hard to prevent that kind of thing from happening to yet another precious portion of that planet?

I'm afraid that what your final sentence really says is more along the line of: "I want my piece of the elusive pie; you have already screwed up your section of the planet, don't tell us how to screw up our section!!"