Coal Basin deal spells out timeline to preserve land |

Coal Basin deal spells out timeline to preserve land

Jeremy Heiman

An agreement regarding the disposition of coal mine land near Redstone calls for final cleanup and reclamation of the land within two years.

Details of the deal between the bankrupt Mid-Continent Resources, Inc., Pitkin County and the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology were made public last week.

It arranges for the possible turnover of the remaining Mid-Con land in Coal Basin to the U.S. Forest Service and sets a two-year time limit on the completion of reclamation at the site. The agreement also frees up funds to complete the reclamation and forbids further lawsuits between the parties.

Kevin Riordan, district ranger for the Forest Service’s Sopris Ranger District, said he now has high hopes that land swaps can be arranged to bring the last 265 acres of Mid-Continent’s Coal Basin property into Forest Service hands. That land had been turned over by the corporation to a subsidiary real estate firm, MidCon Realty, formed for the purpose of selling the property on the open market.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mid-Continent will allow Western Land Group, specialists in brokering land swaps, to attempt to find a buyer or buyers to purchase the land and then trade the 265 acres to the Forest Service for other Forest Service property.

Land exchanges must be arranged within 18 months, or the property will remain the property of Mid-Continent, to dispose of as it wishes. But Robert Delaney, a Glenwood Springs attorney who is part-owner of Mid-Continent and MidCon, has agreed to make every effort to see that the property is transferred to the Forest Service.

Delaney said the deal releases Mid-Continent from any further demands for reclamation money by the state, though an independent study commissioned by the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association indicated that proper reclamation of the site would require as much as $4.7 million.

The agreement also defines the extent of reclamation the Division of Minerals and Geology can perform on private lands in Coal Basin.

In the event Western Land Group is able to sell the property and arrange a swap, Delaney said, a $1.2 million mortgage on the property must be paid off. Any additional money would go to MidCon Realty, he said.

Steve Renner, who is leading the reclamation effort for the state, said he’s pleased with the agreement because it will allow him to get back to work. Mid-Continent Resources had refused to allow the expenditure of the last half million of $3 million earmarked for reclamation from the company’s 1992 bankruptcy, because company officials didn’t approve of the way the reclamation was being done.

“I’m really happy to get back to work up there,” Renner said. “We haven’t done any serious dirt work up there since ’97.”

The remaining reclamation work, Renner said, is revegetation of road cuts and hillsides below two different mine portals – about 45 acres altogether. Sediment eroding from this area has fouled Coal Creek and the Crystal River for decades, he said.

The division has signed with a contractor to complete the revegetation of steep slopes in that area. The contractor will begin reseeding work in August. Renner said reseeding such areas at high elevations has proved to be most successful in late summer.

Renner said he thinks the $3 million will be enough to complete an adequate reclamation of Coal Basin.

District Ranger Riordan said if a swap can’t be arranged for the property, it won’t have a serious negative effect on the integrity of the National Forest lands in Coal Basin.

“As I look at it, that land ought to be with the National Forest system,” Riordan said. “But I think the most important needs have been met,” he said. If the Forest Service doesn’t get the last 265 acres, there’s still access to the balance of the basin by means of a trailhead that could be built on the easternmost parcel of the Coal Basin land, recently acquired by the agency.

Riordan said he doesn’t believe any National Forest property has yet been identified that would be offered in an exchange for the remaining Coal Basin land.

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