Routt 1 of 7 counties in US joining coal community challenge

Twentymile Coal Mine off Routt County Road 27.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County is one of seven counties in the U.S. chosen to participate in a coal community action challenge.

The Building Resilient Economies in Coal Communities is a 12-month program with the goal of developing a specialized economic diversification plan on coal communities supported by the Economic Development Administration, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The intent is to transition away from coal energy production,” said Caroline McClenahan, grant administrator. “We will receive 12 months of technical assistance for initiatives surrounding workforce transition.”

The challenge begins March 28 and ends Feb. 28, 2024.

Each coal community program “team” is composed of three cross-sector community members with a minimum of one member being a government official, which for Routt will be Commissioner Tim Redmond. 

Christina Oaxley from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and Sasha Nelson from Colorado Northwestern Community College will be the other two team members.

The National Association of County Officials advised the team to home in on one focus area for the technical assistance.

The team decided to focus on energy transition as well as the impacts to the workforce. Additionally, the team looks for support sourcing relevant funding streams to aid the region with its transition seeing as the coal community program only provides technical assistance and not financial assistance.

Monthly coaching calls start in April, followed by the quarterly virtual learning session and a capstone event in February 2024.

The lead implementing organization, the National Association of Counties Research Foundation,  partnered with the West Virginia Community Development Hub, Community Builders and EntreWorks to develop educational programming and to provide community coaching.

Routt County applied a couple months back and found out it was chosen in February.

Coal mining in Routt County dates back to the 1880s, but as there have been efforts to move away from fossil fuels produced energy recently, coal production has decreased.

The recent tax devaluation caused by reduced production of coal impacts local tax districts such as libraries and fire districts.

In November, voters passed ballot measure 6A to remove the cap on revenue in place due to TABOR for the South Routt Library District. This cap affected the district’s ability to grow and adjust to events that resulted in a loss of revenue, such as the 2008 recession and reduced taxes as Peabody Energy continues to lower production at the Twentymile Mine. 

South Routt Library District generated $142,000 in 2012 and that revenue has dwindled to $100,500 because of TABOR’s restrictions. Next year, the district’s revenue is expected to climb to $105,000 and with the passing of 6A this district could see an $8,500 increase in revenue in 2023 and up to a $68,000 increase by 2024.

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