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The recent closure of the Kaibab Industries lumber mill just across the Arizona border has left southern Utah residents thinking about coal.

"Look at this community," said Kanab resident Lee Fox. "It's so economically depressed. We need something in here. Anything."Enter Andalex Resources Inc., based in Louisville, Ky. It has been pursuing government approval of the Smoky Hollow Mine for more than six years.

Andalex is proposing the underground mine occupy 25,000 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Utah state school trust lands atop the Kaiparowits Plateau, northeast of Kanab.

Surface facilities would be limited to a 40-acre parcel within the site, and the operation would be fueled for up to four decades by a mere fraction of the more than 4 billion tons of recoverable coal estimated to lie under the plateau.

"It would be an absolute crime to see a resource like this locked up and lay fallow," Andalex project manager Dave Shaver said in a copyright story published last week as part of a four-part series by The Spectrum newspaper in St. George.

Many Kanab residents agree with Shaver. Not only would the Smoky Hollow Mine introduce coal mining as a new industry to the area, but it would also create 455 new jobs.

About 300 of those positions would be concentrated in southwest Utah, according to an economic report released in 1993 by the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. The mine also would create hundreds of indirect jobs.

Andalex's proposal calls for between 2.5 million and 3 million tons of coal per year to be mined, then hauled to Cedar City or Moapa, Nev. From there, the coal would travel by rail to its buyers. Half the coal would likely be sold in the Pacific Rim nations, with the rest going to domestic customers.

"It will be a real asset as far as economics to the county, which is in a sad (economic) state right now," said Kane County Commission Chairman Norm Carroll.

But the proposed mine is not without opponents.

Indeed, an article in the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) spring newsletter decries, "Out, out damn Andalex."

"It's a wilderness in its own right," said SUWA coordinator Ken Rait. "It's not there to generate dollars for people. It's there as a lasting legacy for all generations."

Rait said road construction that would allow passage of coal trucks to the mine site would pave the way for the "hand of man" to enter the isolated plateau.

The improved infrastructure also would invite more mining into the area, he said. And the removal of coal, Rait said, could cause the ground to settle across the site of the mine, possibly disrupting the flow of springs to the area and causing water vital to wildlife to dry up.

But Shaver said surface disturbance would occur on only 40 acres.

"We're talking about something here that's one-fourth the size of the average golf course in Salt Lake City," he said. "If you want to have a wilderness experience, there's another 500 miles or so that's very similar."

The state also requires the company to restore the disturbed area once mining is finished and back up the reclamation with a $1.5 million bond, Shaver said.

"When you look at coal, you've got to look at it in terms of what it means to society, what it means to the country," said Shaver, who keeps a 20-pound lump of coal in his office - the amount of coal each person uses daily.

"As long as you keep flipping the lights on, I've got to keep going underground to get another 20 pounds for you," he said.