The Beacon News

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March 23, 2016

5-phase road through Coyote Creek approved

By Kate Johnson

The Mercer County Commission ended up divided over whether to allow the petition of road closure submitted by North American Coal, Coyote Creek Mine. When the time came to vote the motion to grant the petition with the exceptions of giving affected landowners keys and unescorted access through the active mine, approval was granted with a 3 to 2 vote.
This was not the first time Coyote Creek pitched Mercer County Commission and their neighboring landowners the idea of closing the road that runs through Coyote Creek Mine. Chris Friez, North American Coal, opened their presentation by hitting the three points Coyote Creek felt the commission needed from them and what affected landowners were needing from them: access through the mine, emergency access for the Voigt family, and reconstruction of the road or constructing a road following mining activity in the area.
Sarah Flath, North American Coal, took the reins next as Friez stepped back, allowing her to present what Coyote Creek was willing to do to meet the requirements asked of them. Flath presented that the road going through the active mine would be in five phases.
“This is going to be a very active area, but if the county requires Coyote Creek to provide access through the active mine area as part of the road closure, the trail must be located in one of the less active areas of the mine to reduce the danger to land owners and to mine employees. These less active areas are going to shift over time, so the trail will have to shift with them,” stated Flath.
The active area Flath referred to was roads being frequently crossed by draglines going north and south, scrapers, trucks, dozers, and so on. Flath also mentioned the age of the mine.
“Unlike some of the other mines in the area, there is no reclaimed land yet; this isn’t a mature mine and there are no areas that aren’t going to be crossed frequently.”
Landowners who desire to use this trail will be subject to Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) training as well as MSHA regulations for the driver and vehicle to abide by.
If affected landowners plan on being on the road no more than five times a year, they would have to go through a 30-minute MSHA course to understand the safety required of them as drivers and the hazards of an active mine. More frequent land owners using the road will have to go through a 24-hour MSHA course and take an 8-hour refresher course annually.
These trainings are requirements of MSHA regulations, which is why Coyote Creek Mine would require this of road users.
“The safety of the employees and affected landowners is our number one concern in all of this,” says Flath. Any parties riding with landowners will need to have taken the course as well. If not, the mine needs to be notified beforehand and an escort will be set up.
The roads heading through the mine will have a padlocked gate on either side. Owners who are directly affected by the road closure will be granted keys.
Questions came up as to why not electric gates, as padlocks will become a hassle for landowners. This was answered by the simple fact that it is an active mine. Other mines in the area were referred to as being able to have farmer-access roads and electric gates.
However, the landowners will be driving through an area that is actively being mined. Electric gates were considered, but dropped quickly because of their lack of security. Electric gates can still be accessed by the public with the removal of a pin or disregarded when driving a snowmobile. With the fence and padlock, the mine knows who is coming and going.


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