|Bob Murray of Murray Energy Inc. speaks to the press during the Crandall Canyon mine disaster. His company UtahAmerican Energy has laid off an additional 52 miners in the wake of continuing problems at the Tower Mine. The layoffs affected all three UA mines as well as the Wildcat load out.|
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) approached a federal judge on Nov.15 asking the court to stop UtahAmerican Energy from proceeding with surface work that would further the company's continued attempt to open the Lila Canyon mine. Recent reports of more than 50 additional layoffs at UtahAmerican's three Castle Valley mines have added increased interest to the situation at Lila.
The disastrous events at Crandall Canyon have forced UtahAmerican to cut their local workforce by nearly 200 employees to date and with the continued challenge to the opening of Lila Canyon it seems as though the downturn in local coal mining economy could be a lasting one.
SUWA's Steve Bloch detailed the alliances interest is stopping construction on the proposed mine site.
"Our concern is the surface area around the Lila Canyon mine," said Bloch. "Primarily the undeveloped and undisturbed environment which includes the surface area. The hearing in front of the court last Thursday was our request for a preliminary injunction forcing UtahAmerican to leave the ground undisturbed until the full case concerning their permits have been heard in a court of law."
UtahAmerican responded to both the layoff and the current injunction filed by SUWA.
"UtahAmerican Energy, Inc. unfortunately had no choice but to temporarily layoff a total of 52 employees this week," said Robert E. Murray, vice president of business development and external affairs. "Of this total, 31 were affected at the West Ridge mine, nine employees were affected at the Tower Mine, five employees were affected at the Crandall Canyon mine, and five employees were affected at the Wildcat load out. The layoffs were necessary in order for the company to conserve cash until the Tower Mine is once again in operation and for no other reason than that."
The UtahAmerican executive continued to say, "Again these layoffs are only temporary until the Tower mine is operational. UtahAmerican fully intends to restart the Tower Mine in the near future, perhaps in early January at which time the company will call its laid off miners back to work."
|The national media descends on Castle Valley during the Crandall Canyon disaster. Since then all mines owned by UtahAmerican Energy have been affected by layoffs and the continued scrutiny of many state and federal bodies as well as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.|
UtahAmerican refused to comment on the situation concerning Lila Canyon stating that it is their company policy to not discuss matters that are currently under litigation. SUWA on the other hand had a lot to say about the situation at Lila Canyon.
"It is our contingency that UtahAmerican has lost their leases to that coal seam, however, the Bureau of Land Management could always re-issue them," said Bloch. "Right now we have two challenges to UtahAmerican's right to open Lila. First we believe that their leases have expired and secondly we believe the Department of Oil, Gas and Mining should never have issued the permits."
The injunction was filed with the stipulation that Cryptobiotic soil in the crust of Lila Canyon are an essential part of the ecosystem in the desert environment.
"These organisms make life possible in the southwest," said Bloch. "I am not being over-dramatic and saying that if the microorganisms in this area are damaged that the whole ecosystem in Utah will fail. What I am saying is that it will damage the Lila Canyon area for hundreds of years. This information is not being made by SUWA, studies have been conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that back up our position."
According to Bloch, UtahAmerican has the green light to clear all the vegetation on 30 to 35 acres and when it is re-claimed the trees will not be replanted.
"Instead they will plant grass," said Bloch. "And that is not the landscape out there, we are interested in preserving the undisturbed environment at the mouth of Lila Canyon and that means no surface activities."
Bloch reported that the courts could issue their decision on the injunction within the next three weeks as UtahAmerican has stated their intent is to start construction by January.
"The health, safety and overall well-being of employees is the highest priority to UtahAmerican and Murray Energy," concluded Murray. "We remain committed to restarting the Tower Mine and getting our employees back to work at the earliest possible time."
SUWA's interest lies not with employment but instead with the protection of what they believe to be a sacred resource, "Our interest is this sight and the irreparable change it will go through if mined," said Bloc.