REDSTONE, Colo. - The public doesn't often benefit from the closure and cleanup of a Western mining operation. But it could at Mid-Continent Resources' defunct coal mines outside this small town.
Through an ambitious series of land
swaps, the Forest Service hopes to add about 5,800 acres of the
mining company's land to the adjoining White River National
If the strategy succeeds, not only will
the national forest be enlarged at little cost to taxpayers, but
money from the land dealings will also help restore the mined
After 30 years in operation, Mid-Continent
closed the coal mines down in 1991, then filed for bankruptcy.
Under a bankruptcy agreement, the company agreed to earmark for
reclamation 69 percent of all income generated by the sale of its
The Colorado Department of
Minerals and Geology pegged the mines' reclamation cost at about $3
million, but numerous environmental groups doubted that would do
the job. Then when the company started to market its land in the
basin last year, environmentalists and Redstone residents started
worrying about a future as troublesome as an eroding, unreclaimed
mine: roads and subdivisions in the high-mountain basin (HCN,
Now, thanks to the land-swapping effort,
those fears have abated.
"We think it's a great
idea," says Bill Jochems of the Crystal Valley Environmental
Protection Association. "We're in favor of all of Mid-Continent's
land becoming part of the national forest."
Western Land Group, a private firm in Evergreen,
Colo., is attempting to make the idea a reality. Already, the
company has some deals in the works. For example, it is currently
working with owners of a subdivision near Aspen who want to obtain
a 40-acre parcel of Bureau of Land Management land surrounding
their development. Once the appraisal on the 40 acres is in, says
Western Land Group President Adam Poe, the owners will be told
exactly how much Mid-Continent land to buy to exactly match the
value of the BLM land.
"We'll be able to balance
the swap almost to the dime," says Poe.
developers will buy the land from Mid-Continent, then turn it over
to the Forest Service in return for the 40-acre parcel of BLM land.
Eventually, the group hopes to transfer the
entire 5,800 acres to the national forest. "That's our goal and we
expect to do it," says Poe.
the sale of its rock-dust plant and several large parcels of land
outside the basin, Mid-Continent has raised enough money to seal
off 50 holes in the mountainside that serviced mine shafts, says
Steve Renner of the Department of Minerals and Geology. Salvage
crews have also torn down numerous buildings and hauled off huge
amounts of abandoned
Environmentalists' fears that the
abandoned mines will leach contaminated water into Coal Creek are
unfounded at this time, says Renner. Bill Jochems, however, remains
leery of the clean-up effort. He says his group will continue to
monitor its progress after the snows
The writer reports
for The Aspen Times, in Aspen,