Search for coal heats up as cold winter temps loom

Hundreds of North Fork Valley residents could be in for cold times this winter if they can’t arrange for coal to heat their homes.

Until this year, residents relied on the Elk Creek Mine to supply stoker coal for winter heating.

The Elk Creek Mine, however, has been idled since December, and with this December approaching, there is no clear supplier of coal that has been crushed to the size that it can be burned in a potbelly stove.

“Oh, it’s going to be hard if we can’t get it,” said Lynne Bear. “It’s better heat and lasts longer.”

Bear is far from alone in the North Fork Valley, or elsewhere, for that matter, said Pat Farnsworth of Farnsworth Construction and Gravel Co.

She and her husband, Dick, deliver coal to North Fork residences.

“We’ll go out and see if we can find another source, if people are willing to pay the price because it’s going to have to be trucked in here,” Farnsworth said.

Stoker coal goes for about $104 a ton and for many, a ton lasts about a month.

“Most people burn five or six tons” each winter, Farnsworth said.

Most residents last winter avoided cold’s grip because they anticipated problems once Elk Creek’s production slowed, then stopped, Farnsworth said.

“We urged people to overbuy and stock their bins,” she said. “I think most people did that.”

Heating with coal isn’t just a North Fork thing.

Farnsworth delivers coal to Silverton, Durango, Grand Junction and other places, she said.

“Every year we get somebody from Denver wanting coal, but it’s a long way” there.

Natural gas is slowly taking over in the North Fork, as about four or five customers switch over each year, the result of aging homeowners, or aging furnaces, she said.

“But we still have quite a few people who use coal.”

Two other coal mines, the Bowie and West Elk, in the North Fork are operating, but no arrangements have been made with them.

The irony, said Paonia resident Ed Marston, is that “millions of tons a year are flowing out of here by train, but the few hundred of us who burn coal here can’t buy any.”

The Delta County Commission is looking into the matter, said county Administrator Robbie LeValley.


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