Xcel planning on special-use permits

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Up to 1.8 million tons of coal could be hauled annually on a 13.5-mile section of Routt County Road 27 (Twentymile Road) if the Routt County Board of Commissioners approves a special-use permit requested by Xcel Energy, owner of the Hayden Station Power Plant.

The request is for one of many special-use permits Xcel plans to obtain in an effort to find competition among coal suppliers, Hayden Station Director Frank Roitsch said.

The request received a recommendation for approval from the Routt County Planning Commission on Dec. 18, and the Routt County commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue at 2 p.m. Jan. 13.

The board will look at the same issues presented to the Planning Commission involving the special-use permit, including health, safety and welfare impacts on residents of C.R. 27, as well as school buses that will be operating simultaneously with the 25- to 70-ton load-carrying trucks, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The commissioners' decision also will rely heavily on public input, particularly from those who will be directly affected by the coal hauling, Monger said.

If the special-use permit is approved, Hayden Station would have to comply with several conditions to mitigate traffic safety concerns.

A current coal truck restriction on C.R. 27 requires coal trucks to stay off the road when school buses may be present, in part because "the existing roadway still has numerous sections with substandard width, horizontal curvature and vertical curvature," according to a traffic study prepared by Boulder-based Fox Higgins Transportation Group LLC for Xcel Energy.

To mitigate these concerns, Xcel has proposed:

n Widening the road where necessary to a 30-foot paved width with 3-foot gravel shoulders on both sides,

n Making minor straightening and grade improvements,

n Making structural improvements to accommodate heavier trucks,

n Implementing automatic signs to indicate when school buses are present, and

n Sharing a radio system to allow truck drivers to communicate with school bus drivers.

Xcel also proposed installing a new entrance to Twentymile Coal Co. to reduce the haul length by 1.7 miles.

Getting approval of this special-use permit, as well as others in the works, is all part of Xcel's desire to have competition among coal providers, Roitsch said. Where the company will buy its coal for the next few years is up in the air, he said, because several variables will affect the company in that time.

Xcel will pursue obtaining a special-use permit to install a railroad unloading facility along Union Pacific's line about a half mile north of Hayden Station, across U.S. Highway 40. Coal then could travel by rail from regional mines to the unloading facility, where a conveyor would be built to move the coal over the historic Carpenter Ranch and U.S. Highway 40 to the plant, Roitsch said.

"The bottom line is we need about 1.8 million tons of coal (per year), regardless of where it comes from," Roitsch said.

Also, Peabody Coal Co., the owner of Seneca Coal Mines, the mines that have provided all of the coal to Hayden Station since the power plant was completed in 1965, may not be the exclusive coal provider after 2006.

Under a contract between the power plant and Seneca, Seneca must confirm in April whether it will continue to provide 100 percent of Hayden Station's coal needs, beginning in 2006. Seneca could opt to provide a lower percentage of the plant's needs.

If Seneca decides to continue to provide all the coal, and Xcel agrees to accept its prices, the special-use permit for coal trucks on C.R. 27 would not be needed.

But, if Peabody is successful in its recent bid to purchase Twentymile, it still could provide 100 percent of Hayden Station's coal, but would probably need the special-use permit to haul coal from its mine to the power plant. The special-use permit under review extends all the way to Twentymile Coal in the event that some of its coal will be used at Hayden Station.

"Until April, we will not know when or if we will activate this coal haul procedure," Roitsch said.

Also, Routt County has planned to make improvements on C.R. 27, which could alter the way Xcel Energy goes about the improvements it has proposed.

"We could have to pay more or less of the road construction, we just don't know yet," Roitsch said. "There are just too many variables. There are a lot of dominoes, and we have no idea which way they will fall."

John Eastman, a staff planner with Routt County, said the Routt County Planning Commission was happy that Xcel took the time and effort to call the Hayden School District and C.R. 27 neighbors before seeking the special-use permit.

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