A single dirt road winds through the white sand and expansive piûon-juniper forests of Utah's Kaiparowits Plateau.
Encircled by Bryce Canyon and Zion
national parks and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the desert
mesa hides both a seldom-visited wilderness and the state's last
large deposit of high-grade coal.
adventurers now dodge potholes, in a few years they may meet
92-foot-long coal trucks. Andalex Resources Inc. told the Bureau of
Land Management in 1991 it planned to send 75 million tons of
Kaiparowits coal to power plants in Japan, Korea, Nevada and
If the agency approves the mining
plan, 300 trucks would travel over the Kaiparowits road every day,
around the clock, for the next 30 years. Their destination: rail
stations in Moapa, Nev., and Iron Springs,
Ken Rait, an attorney with the Southern
Utah Wilderness Alliance, says, "This could be the biggest single
threat to southern Utah wilderness. We are watching the
transformation of a spectacular wilderness to a zone of
Andalex was not the first to
eye the plateau. In the late 1960s, Southern California Edison and
several other companies planned to build a mine, a power plant and
a town of 15,000 on the plateau. But under pressure from
environmentalists and a waning market, they backed out in
Andalex now proposes to remove 14,000 tons
of coal every two days (about 2.5 million tons a year), and truck
it over 200 miles through part of the Glen Canyon National
Recreation Area, two proposed wilderness areas, a major mule deer
migration corridor, part of the Paiute Indian Reservation and five
During environmental analysis of
the project, more than 1,500 people wrote to the BLM, and nearly
all expressed several concerns about the project, says BLM project
director Mike Noel. The flood of comments will delay the completion
of the agency's draft environmental impact statement until the end
of 1994, he says.
In a report to the BLM, the
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said that truck traffic could
severely impact the plateau's migrating deer, and that mining could
cause subsidence over a 6,000-acre area.
remain the BLM's chief concern. They increase public access to the
wide desert canyons and archaeological ruins in the area, says
Noel, and that could create management headaches. In addition,
paving the road could cost taxpayers a bundle and increase noise
and traffic hazards, critics told the
Valerie Cohen, a Cedar City resident,
founded Taxpayers for Safe Utah Roads in 1992 to oppose what she
calls Andalex's "transportation nightmare."
Cohen's group of about 40 local farmers,
artists, teachers and other townspeople meets weekly to gather
information about the project. She estimates that widening the
narrow two-lane roads, paving pullouts and adding passing lanes
could cost taxpayers at least $75 million before Andalex's trucks
even start hauling.
Cohen also worries about
safety. She points to a 1990 study by the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety which found that double trailer trucks crash two to
three times more often than regular trucks. When trailer-trucks
collide with cars, the study says, the collisions result in death
for car occupants 49 times more often than for truckers. Andalex's
trucks may travel through several miles of residential
neighborhoods in Cedar City, where Cohen says parents worry about
their children biking home alongside 92-foot
Andalex project manager Dave Shaver
downplays such concerns. Central Utah already hosts six to eight
times the number of trucks Andalex proposes, without major
problems, he says. Most of the mine's direct impacts would be
underground, he adds, and the surface facilities would only damage
about 40 acres already disturbed by previous prospecting
"The amount of environmental
regulation we have to comply with is incredible," Shaver says.
Besides paying for and complying with the environmental impact
statement, he says, the company must completely reshape and re-seed
the 40-acre area, then monitor it for an additional 30
Iron County commissioner R.L. Gardner
supports the mine for the jobs and money it would bring to
southwestern Utah. He points to an economic analysis that Utah's
planning office completed for the BLM in 1993. The report says the
mine could bring 1,400 residents to southern Utah and directly
employ 455 people while increasing the earnings of Utah residents
$12.2 million each year. Meanwhile, state economists project road
repair and upgrade costs would run between $20-$40 million, less
than half Cohen's estimate.
Ken Rait calls the
1993 study unrealistic, since no one knows whether markets really
exist for the Kaiparowits coal. Rait also says Utah BLM chief Jim
Parker illegally suspended requirements for Andalex to develop its
leases within 10 years back in 1991. The move gave the company time
to market its coal and wait for a new port in Los Angeles, he says.
Builders plan to complete the port "which Andalex has invested in -
BLM officials say Parker granted the
extension to allow the agency time to complete its extensive impact
study. But Rait says agency guidelines specifically bar extensions
to meet National Environmental Policy Act requirements. "Without
the suspension the mine never could have happened," he says.
"Parker handed Andalex its mine on a silver platter."
Andalex's Shaver believes the BLM has an
obligation to provide coal from the public domain. "The only reason
Andalex is mining coal is because society demands it," he says.
Coal provides 60 percent of the nation's power, he says, and the
Department of Energy expects coal consumption to double within 35
But Rait believes the costs are too high.
There are substitutes for Kaiparowits coal in central Utah, he
says, but "there are no substitutes for the wilderness value of
For more information, contact the
BLM, 318 N. 100 East, Kanab, UT 84741 (801/644-2672). SUWA's
address is 1471 S. 1100 E., Salt Lake City, UT
The writer is a former