Still no railroad, but Colowyo expansion extends life of mine

Colowyo poised to tap Collom coal seam

MEEKER | A century ago in the Meeker Herald, editor and publisher James Lyttle wrote, “Some of our citizens who put ‘this and that’ together and then drew satisfying conclusions, are of the decided opinion that the recent sale of the famous Collom coal mine property at Axial means a railroad for this section. It probably means railroad connections ultimately, but not in the near future. The question as to whether the government will hold on to the railroads or return them to private ownership will have to be settled. The big bodies of coal which lie between Meeker and Axial could be tapped by a railroad built either from Rifle or from Wamsutter. Such a road could be built very cheaply; but, as we have said, nothing will be done until after the war.”

A hundred years later, that Collom coal is about to be tapped. Even though Meeker still isn’t getting the long hoped-for railroad line, the mine expansion provides some job security for employees at Colowyo.

According to Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications and public affairs for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which operates the mine, the Collom Project is expected to extend Colowyo’s operations up to 35 years.

It’s taken more than 10 years to get to this point. The first federal lease application was submitted in 2005. Two environmental assessments have been completed, both with “findings of no significant impact.”  The federal mine permit was signed in January 2016. The air permit is pending approval.

Two-hundred and twenty jobs depend on Colowyo’s operations, many of whom are from Meeker and Rio Blanco County.

“The Collom Project will help sustain the 220 jobs at Colowyo mine well into the future,” Boughey said via email.

The South Taylor Pit which is currently being mined has about a four-year supply of coal left. Reclamation of the South Taylor Pit is already underway and will continue through 2029. Colowyo has received multiple awards for “outstanding coal mine reclamation projects.”

Colowyo Mine and Trapper Mine provide coal to the three units of the Craig Station. Unit 1 at the Craig Station will be retired at the end of 2025, and could reduce demand for coal. However, Colowyo’s “high quality coal” is also being marketed to other potential users, Boughey said.

Development of infrastructure and facilities for the Collom Project is currently under construction. The first coal from the new pit is scheduled to be produced in January 2019.