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WILL PROPOSAL FOR COAL MINE RUIN WILDS?

A proposed coal mine in the Kaiparowits Plateau region of southern Utah could destroy one of the last wilderness areas in the country, say environmentalists.

But representatives for the state's school trust lands argue the mine could bring much-needed revenue to schools with little environmental impact.The controversial proposal comes from Dutch-owned Andalex Resources Inc. and includes plans for a 25,000-acre underground coal mine and a 22-mile road from Big Water in Kane County to the proposed mine site at the south end of the Kaiparowits Plateau near the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The mine would have an estimated 40-year life span.

The majority of the land would be leased for $3 an acre from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The remaining 5 percent is state school trust land, from which the state would receive approximately 8 percent of coal royalties.

Officials from the BLM and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement began a string of public meetings throughout the state this week to hear public comment as part of preliminary studies for an environmental impact statement.

About 30 Salt Lake residents turned out Thursday night. Anda-lex representatives did not attend.

The proposed mine is flanked by two wilderness study areas, and it could "effectively destroy five units of land in HR1500," said Ken Rait, issues coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. HR1500, which has gone nowhere in Congress, proposes 5.7 million acres of wilderness in Utah.

"We're looking at the fragmentation and erosion of a wilderness area, the destruction of archaeological and paleological resources," said Rait. "All at the expense of the Utah taxpayer."

Kane County would probably assume the costs of building a road to the proposed mine, and other road upgrades would likely be billed to the state. Rait thinks the entire project could cost Utah taxpayers up to $100 million.

But Margaret Bird, school trust land specialist for the State Office of Education, said the mine could bring $40 million to the state's school fund. "This is a birthright to Utah's children," she said.

She visited the proposed site as well as Andalex's mine site in Price and believes the environmental impact would be minimal.

An estimated 40 acres of land would be visibly disturbed, say BLM officials. As mine tunnels snake under the surface, remaining acreage would sink slightly but not noticeably.

Public meetings earlier this week in Cedar City and Hurricane were highly emotional, said Verlin Smith, Kanab area manager for the BLM.

He said residents there fear an increase in traffic on town roads. A truck carrying 46 tons of coal would travel in either direction every four minutes, often in residential areas, he said.

Under the proposal, coal would travel in 92-foot -long trailer-trucks from the mine through Big Water,; Kanab,; Fredonia, Ariz. ; and Hurricane to a new train-loading facility in either Cedar City or Moapa, Nev.

Mike Noel, BLM project manager, said the trucks are generally safer than other vehicles typically on these roads. He added that the closed-top trucks would not leave a trace of coal dust along their routes.

More meetings will be held in Moapa, Kanab and Arizona next week. Noel said the draft environmental impact statement should be available for public comment by spring.

The original proposal for the mine, made nearly five years ago, specified only 9,700 acres and a 30-year life span. Changes in the proposal last December interrupted an already in-progress environmental study.