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Forum Explores The Future Of The North Fork Valley

Hive Paonia
Laura Palmisano

About 100 people attended a forum on the North Fork Valley's economy and what can be done to improve it. 

Thirteen people ranging from the president of a coal mine to the head of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce spoke at the forum held at the Hive Paonia. 

"We have our farms," says Alexis Halbert, president of the chamber. "We have our hunting resources. We have are restaurants, wineries, [and] people who are creating things out of the natural assets of the valley."

The speakers discussed business, tourism, recreation, agriculture, broadband, land use, and energy. They talked about how these industries intersect and could work together to boost the area’s economy.

"And so if you have that resource we need to get you together and bring it to the table so that people can start it," says Diane Tourney, a small business consultant, at the forum. 

The North Fork Valley in Delta County is known for two main industries: agriculture and coal mining.

Nationwide, the coal industry is suffering. And, the valley has felt it too.

In late October 150 people were laid off at a local mine.

Last year, nearly 300 coal miners in the area lost their jobs when Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset closed.

Mike Ludlow, the president of Oxbow mining, spoke at the forum.

He says the future of coal in the North Fork is uncertain.

"Everyone in the valley knows that the coal industry is extremely challenged right now," Ludlow says. "It’s under the gun from environmental groups, government regulations, and an oversupply of coal in the United States and worldwide.”

Other speakers at the forum expressed concern over another source of energy extraction that could come to the area.

"The big threat that I’ve seen and a lot of my fellow realtors have seen is the gas leases close in to the valley," says Bob Lario of ReMax Mountain West. 

Overall most of the speakers say industry collaboration would benefit the North Fork Valley and faster internet would be a game changer.

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