Nevada Electric Investment Co. and BHP-Utah International have announced a delay of at least three years in starting a controversial strip mine at the Alton Coal Field.

Mining will not begin before 1995, with the delay based on a new planning study, according to a press release.In addition, BHP-Utah, formerly a partner in the project, no longer has any future equity in the proposed mine.

The mine has been on the back burner for many years. In 1980, Cecil D. Andrus, then secretary of interior for President Jimmy Carter, ruled that 9,000 acres of the coal field should be off-limits to mining because it would damage the view from Bryce Canyon National Park. However, large areas remained unaffected.

The project is intended to slurry coal to the proposed Harry Allen Power Plant near Las Vegas via a pipeline 183 miles long. Underground water reserves would be used to slurry the coal.

Ranchers joined with conservationists in protesting the plans, claiming that the mine would use enough water to supply a city of 25,000, inhibiting growth in Kane County.

Caroline Lippincott, a member of the Johnson Canyon Ranchers Association, told the Deseret News earlier this year that the power plant is not needed. "We are awash in excess power," she said.

The new announcement says the first 250-megawatt unit of the Harry Allen Plant will be delayed beyond 1995.

"This schedule for the power plant - the intended market for Alton Mine coal - will result in rescheduling of permit application-related field work in the proposed mine area," says the press release, signed by John W. Arlidge, vice president of NEICO, and George W. Tarleton, vice president of BHP-Utah.

"It appears that construction to open the mine will not be started before 1995. This represents a delay of approximately three years beyond the last announced schedule."

The announcement says that under the law, holders of federal coal leases face sanctions if the leases don't begin producing coal within 10 years. If they don't, the lease holders can't bid on other new federal mineral leases of any type.