Makayla Gordon, Business & Community Development Manager
West End Economic Development Corporation
Retiring almost three years early, the Nucla Station of Tri-State officially closed September 9, 2019 at 9:19am marking an end to an era and terminating 58 jobs. With the plant closure, 47.9% of property taxes were also eliminated from Montrose County and the special districts in the West End. The New Horizon coal mine was closed in 2017, resulting in an additional 23 jobs lost.
In 2019, House Bill 19-1314 was passed in the Colorado House of Representatives for Just Transition Support for Coal-Related Jobs. This bill established the Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC) and the Office of Just Transition (OJT) under the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). In the 2021 Colorado Legislative Session, the Colorado House of Representatives passed House Bill 21-1290 which allocated additional funding to the Office of Just Transition for disbursement to eight Colorado communities. This funding includes $8 million direct funding to the communities for economic development and community transition and $7 million to be allocated through CDLE for direct assistance to coal-impacted workers for retraining and securing new jobs. This funding must be spent by July 2023.
La Plata, El Paso, Larimer, and Delta and Gunnison counties have all transitioned away from coal already and are all considered Tier Two Transition communities by the Office of Just Transition. Morgan County, Pueblo, The West End and The Yampa Valley are all currently moving away from coal-generated power and are considered Tier One Transition communities. Tier One Transition communities will receive a greater amount of this funding to assist communities and workers in this move away from coal generated power.
Although The West End has already experienced the closure of both the power plant and coal mine, The West End is expected to receive about $1.85 million of the Tier One Transition economic development funding very shortly. In collaboration, the towns of Naturita, Norwood, and Nucla, Montrose County, and West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) have created a task force to plan for the best use of this funding to create the greatest economic impact for our communities. To continue to grow and thrive, each town needs vital infrastructure upgrades, which is where much of this funding will be allocated.
Because this funding is coming about two and a half years after the plant closure and five years after the coal mine closure, many of the workers have already relocated, retrained, or accepted new employment. Therefore, under current language of the legislation, The West End is not able to take advantage of the $7 million allocated to CDLE to help with worker transition.
WEEDC is eager to support our community in its transition away from coal and navigating the funding that is headed our way. We have been actively supporting our workforce that was affected by these closures and will continue to do so as needed. While it is difficult to watch major employers leave our community resulting in employment loss and major property tax loss, WEEDC is committed to our community and its desire to thrive.