COREY HEAPS walks near the site of the Red Cliff Mine in the Bookcliffs east of Colorado Highway 139. Heaps is the project manager for the mine that would produce enough coal to fill two trains of 100 to 120 cars per day.

Out on the snow-capped sea of rolling, gray adobe, Corey Heaps gestured toward the Bookcliffs looming a few miles behind him. ¶ The sun, peeking over the south rim of Grand Mesa, lit the red sandstone in the barren, distant cliffs. ¶ “Of all the places you could choose,” Heaps said, “This is the place for a coal mine.”

Heaps is the project manager for Rhino Energy’s Red Cliff Mine, which the company hopes to have open in about four years.

The location of the mine portal, once it’s cut into the clay that covers the Bookcliffs, is hidden in a back bowl and tucked behind a ridge.

Passersby on Colorado Highway 139 might see lights from the mine, but not the portal itself, Heaps said.

The waste, or gob pile, will look like an extension of the ridge, Heaps said.

Otherwise, the only hint that there’s more back there against the cliffs will be a road, rail spur and some outbuildings.

The rail spur route is plotted to hug the base of bluffs along its route from the mine site to Mack. It might at one point be distantly visible from Highline Lake State Park, Heaps said.

The actual size of Red Cliff Mine will depend on a lease sale still to be scheduled that could decide whether Red Cliff is a small mine or a large one, Heaps said.

Rhino Energy has leases underlaying about 6,000 acres that it will mine, but an adjacent 14,446 acres will go up for lease eventually and Rhino, which nominated the land to the Bureau of Land Management for coal leasing, expects there will be other bidders for the right to mine there.

In all, the coal underlaying the 23,000 acres that Rhino hopes to pull out using the Red Cliff Mine could last 30 years, the company and BLM estimate.

Red Cliff Mine will supply two daily trips of a coal train of 100 to 120 cars, each car hauling 100 to 120 tons of coal to customers still unknown.

In all, Rhino Energy is poised to pump $160 million into all the surface facilities needed to dig out and transport millions of tons of low-sulfur coal and $130 million for equipment to be used inside the mine.

Red Cliff Mine will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and eventually displace, and dwarf, McClane Canyon Mine a few miles to the north.

The company anticipates 200 to 250 employees working at the mine at full operation and forecasts 486 indirect jobs.

The actual mine will be in Garfield County with the portal and outbuildings in Mesa County.

McClane Canyon Mine, also owned by Rhino Energy, now sends 230 truckloads of coal a day down Colorado 139, bound for Xcel’s Cameo Power Plant.

If Rhino Energy’s plans proceed as anticipated, the mine would become the biggest customer for Grand Valley Power, said Steve Don, manager of engineering for Grand Valley.

The mine is within Grand Valley’s service area and will be serviced with a 69-kilovolt transmission line about 14 miles long, depending on the eventual route it takes, Don said.

Constructing the power line will likely take about six months, Don said.

The Colorado Environmental Coalition will monitor the BLM’s approval process for the mine, said Joe Neuhof, Western Slope field director.

The coalition wants to make sure the mine “doesn’t affect that amazing viewshed up there,” Neuhof said.

Venting of methane gas from the mine also is a potential issue, both because it could contribute to global warming and because vents might be in the area of Hunter Canyon, which has been proposed by the coalition for recognition as a wilderness area.

Rhino also is considering using collection systems for methane.

The coalition will be watching vent placement closely, Neuhof said.


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