Xcel pursues coal delivery plan

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Xcel Energy on Friday filed an application with Routt County for a special-use permit that would allow the company to pursue a plan for delivering coal from the Union Pacific railroad north of U.S. Highway 40 to the Hayden Station.

The plan calls for building a railroad spur through a hay meadow on the east end of The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch and also through Tim Nelson's property before tunneling under the highway. South of the highway, the spur would connect with an existing spur leading to the Hayden Station through Rosamond Garcia's land.

The plan was chosen from about 11 options Xcel officials have investigated since determining more than a year ago that rail service would be needed to secure a long-term fuel supply for the steam-electric generating station.

Currently, the nearby Peabody Seneca Coal Company -- and to a lesser extent, the Peabody Twentymile Coal Company near Oak Creek -- provide the 1.8 million tons of coal the station needs to operate each year. The coal is hauled to the station mostly on private hauling roads.

To receive coal from other suppliers, Xcel has explored rail service options that include building an unloading facility at an existing spur on the Carpenter Ranch and transporting the coal south to the station on a conveyor belt. The company also proposed extending an existing spur on the ranch, just west of where the highway crosses the Yampa River, across the highway and south to the station.

Other options included extending an existing spur or building an unloading facility and conveyor belt from the existing spur on the Williams ranch or building a spur near Mount Harris and extending a rail west to the station.

In January, the company hosted a community meeting, during which it presented the alternatives to more than 80 people, who then filled out questionnaires.

Participants' concerns included potential effects on agricultural activity and the environment, as well as on property values and quality of life. Residents also said they preferred that coal not be handled on private property.

Overall, residents' feedback pointed to extending the existing spur where the highway crosses the river as the best option, said Michael Diehl, Xcel's principal siting and land rights agent.

Logistically, however, the option presented problems. First, Xcel estimated coal delivery by rail would require one train with between 60 and 70 cars, traveling across the highway twice a day, causing significant traffic delays.

Also, with the way the existing spur curves from the main rail, trains traveling from the east would have to back into the spur. The project also would affect riparian areas along the river, Diehl said.

Xcel determined that building a new spur about 200 feet west of the existing spur would provide enough space to construct a "wye" accommodating trains from the east and west. Alternative "2A" also would include construction of an underpass beneath the highway, and the project would not impose on river riparian areas, Diehl said.

In September, as Xcel was in the midst of planning the project, The Nature Conservancy sent a letter to the company opposing proposal 2A.

The letter resulted in a meeting between Xcel representatives, the town of Hayden, and the Yampa Valley Land Trust and Routt County, which both own the conservation easements, or development rights, on the Carpenter Ranch.

At the request of those parties, Xcel revisited with landowners affected by each rail option and composed a 34-page analysis of possible effects and mitigation measures for each alternative.

Based on the report and landowners' comments, Xcel officials again came to the conclusion that alternative 2A was the best option, Diehl said.

Betsy Blakeslee, Carpenter Ranch outreach coordinator, and Ann Oliver, Yampa River Project director with The Nature Conservancy, said Friday that they were not prepared to comment on Xcel's plan.

The report outlined possible mitigation measures for the Carpenter Ranch, including restoring the 15-acre area where the old spur exists and replacing land affected by the new spur with land adjoining the ranch.

Mitigation also could include installing noise-muffling devices in the Nelson and Garcia residences, using low emission and noise locomotives and making structural improvements to the residences if vibration becomes a problem.

Nelson's position on the plan is similar to The Nature Conservancy's stance, though he said he would prefer to elaborate at a later time.

Reed Zars spoke on behalf of this mother, Rosamond Garcia.

"I have spoken with Mom, and her position is that the rail line would cut through her property like a knife through a saddle cinch, rendering both halves useless," Zars said.

Xcel hopes to begin construction on the project in the spring. It will take about two years to complete, he said.

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