South Canyon Coalition: ‘Precarious canyon’ should remain as open space | PostIndependent.com

South Canyon Coalition: ‘Precarious canyon’ should remain as open space

Smoke from an underground fire is often visible along the exposed coal seam high up on the Grand Hogback in South Canyon west of Glenwood Springs.
Provided

When Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs owner Steve Beckley tabled his development plans for South Canyon in May, the newly formed South Canyon Coalition let out a sigh of relief.

Thursday evening’s presentation from Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety before City Council regarding fire mitigation efforts in South Canyon further fueled the coalition’s desire to keep the canyon as “open space.”

“It has extensive coal mines underground in the upper end of the canyon, and at least one of those is on fire and has been burning for decades,” South Canyon Coalition member Jim Olp told the Post Independent before Thursday’s meeting.

“That danger has never completely gone away,” he said. “The state has made several attempts to mitigate the coal mine fire, but it’s still an ongoing fire and a danger and a risk to Glenwood Springs.”

According to Olp, in the past, various councils have heard variant South Canyon development proposals ranging from a new cemetery for Glenwood Springs to a BMX bike area, all of which nose-dived.

Now, with no pending propositions for South Canyon, the coalition hopes the current council and future ones will deem the precarious canyon, once and for all, an open space off limits to any significant development.

“I personally don’t think that it’s possible to extinguish the fires,” Olp said of the burning coal seam that sparked a devastating wildfire in 2002 that burned several homes in West Glenwood.

“Our concern is for the canyon itself, as well as for the citizens of Glenwood,” Olp said.

Olp and the rest of the South Canyon Coalition believe city leaders understand the dangers associated with the canyon as it pertains to its development. However, their criticism takes aim at how they perceive its designation.

“The canyon, time and time again, has been designated as open space,” Olp explained. “Yet somehow … councils seem more than willing to ignore the open space designation in favor of some kind of development, and that’s why the [South Canyon Coalition] is saying, ‘Look, it’s already open space; you have designated it open space, and we want some guarantee that you’re going to follow these previous designations in the future.’”

Colorado’s Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety Senior Project Manager Tara Tafi detailed before City Council Thursday night how South Canyon, particularly given this year’s historically dry season, was monitored very closely.

Impossible to dig out, according to Tafi, the South Canyon East Mine fire reaches temperatures of 900 degrees. That said, sealing air vents and cutting out airflows appears the more practical, yet still effective approach, which will continue next spring.

South Canyon’s West Mine fire, according to the presentation, saw a lot of vegetation removal and lower temperatures of between 250-300 degrees.

The total mitigation effort next spring should take place over the course of three to four months, weather dependent, according to Tafi.

mabennett@postindependent.com