State takes action against road expansion into protected area

“We’ll be watching closely…”

The Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety (DRMS) issued a cessation order to Mountain Coal Company, a subsidiary of Missouri-based Arch Coal and operator of the West Elk Mine in the North Fork Valley near Paonia, to prevent further road construction or tree removal within the protected Sunset Colorado Roadless Area (CRA).

The 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule, one of two state rules adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in lieu of the 2001 federal roadless rule, limits road-building and other activities within undeveloped roadless areas.

The cessation order was issued following the construction of a new road in the Sunset CRA by Mountain Coal Company earlier this month.

High Country Conservation Advocates public lands director Matt Reed said the order halts all new surface disturbance in the roadless forest, barring minor exceptions. He said that before the cessation order, Mountain Coal had said it planned more road building and also plans to scrape five half-acre drilling pads.

“We’re pleased that the state is putting a stop to the coal company’s renegade bulldozing, which has already damaged wildlife habitat and roadless forest near the West Elk Wilderness,” said Reed. “The state stepped up to protect these beautiful public lands after Mountain Coal flouted a court order and the Forest Service ignored it. We’ll be watching closely to make sure the coal company obeys the law.”

Mining activities have been allowed in the Sunset CRA in the past as a result of the “North Fork Exception” to the Colorado Roadless Rule.
However, in March, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service had not followed procedures required by the National Environmental Protection Act when it reinstated the exception in a 2016 land use plan, and ordered the exception be vacated by the District Court of Colorado. On Monday, the District Court issued an order formally vacating the North Fork Exception.

With the North Fork Exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule vacated this week, the company must comply with the provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule that preclude road building, other construction and most surface disturbance. As a result, DRMS issued an order for the company to cease road building and other associated activities in the Sunset CRA. DRMS’ order does not prohibit the company from continuing its current operations below the surface at the mine.

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