Xcel faces opposition to conveyor-belt idea

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Xcel Energy could face strong opposition to a proposal to build an unloading facility and conveyor belt across the Carpenter Ranch and U.S. Highway 40 into the Hayden Station power plant.

Several Yampa Valley residents, including land conservation officials, already have voiced their concerns about changing the landscape at The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch and its neighboring ranches.

"We will do everything we can to stop this from happening, including taking them to court," said The Nature Conservancy Outreach Coordinator Betsy Blakeslee. "We're willing to fight for our neighbors, as well."

Building a conveyor belt across either the Carpenter Ranch or the neighboring Williams Ranch are two of several options Xcel is examining in an effort to boost profits and find competition among coal suppliers.

Xcel Energy, owner of the Hayden Station power plant, will hold an open house meeting from 1 to 7:30 p.m. today at Carpenter Ranch to discuss several coal-delivery options with concerned members of the public.

"We have found that it is best to have public input as a considerable part of the decision-making process," said Michael Diehl, siting and land rights principal agent with Xcel.

Among the options are six major possibilities, Diehl said. They are:

n Using an existing railroad spur from the Union Pacific mainline at The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch and building an unloading facility and conveyor belt to transport coal south, across U.S. 40 into Hayden Station.

n Using an existing railroad spur from the Union Pacific mainline at Carpenter Ranch and extending the rail south, allowing trains to cross U.S. 40 into Hayden Station.

n Building a railroad spur at the Williams Ranch, immediately west of Carpenter Ranch, and building an unloading facility and conveyor belt to transport coal south, across U.S. 40 into Hayden Station.

n Building a railroad spur at the Williams Ranch, immediately west of Carpenter Ranch, and extending the rail south so that trains can cross U.S. 40 into Hayden Station.

n Building a railroad spur near Mount Harris and extending a rail west into Hayden Station.

n Using an existing railroad spur and unloading facility owned by Peabody Coal Co. at the "Hayden Gulch" two miles due south of U.S. 40, east of Routt County Road 53. The unloading facility would be used to reload trucks that would haul the coal into Hayden Station by a haul road.

The final option is one of the more attractive possibilities because it is less visible than the options involving shipping coal or trains across U.S. 40. However, the economic factors of each option have not been seriously weighed yet, Diehl said.

"Right now, in the preliminary analysis, we're just trying to find from the public which options some people think are way out of whack," Diehl said.

Geoff Blakeslee, manager of Carpenter Ranch for The Nature Conservancy, said he thought building a noisy, dusty conveyor belt across a conservation easement certainly is out of whack. He and his wife, Betsy, have written a letter to Xcel stating their opposition to the option, he said.

"Our intent was to preserve and protect this ranch," Geoff Blakeslee said. "We don't want our neighbors to be impacted either, though. In some ways, this starts pitting neighbor against neighbor where we're all saying 'we don't want it in our yard,' so we're all trying to stick together."

According to preliminary drawings he has seen, Blakeslee said the conveyor belt would go directly through an area of nesting sandhill cranes and other wildlife.

"We feel like this would definitely have an impact on our agricultural operation and existing wildlife, from the noise standpoint and all the coal dust," Geoff Blakeslee said, adding he thinks the public also opposes Xcel's proposal.

Members of the Carpenter family and officers of The Nature Conservancy will be at the open house meeting today to state their opposition to changing the landscape of the agricultural land to the north of Hayden Station, Betsy Blakeslee said.

Yampa Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit land conservation organization that co-holds the conservation easement on Carpenter Ranch with Routt County, also has written a letter to Xcel stating its opposition, YVLT Executive Director Susan Otis said.

"The formal position of the (YVLT) board of directors states a strong opposition to any construction of any load-out area and conveyor on the Carpenter Ranch," Otis said.

Besides the coal-hauling alternative on Carpenter Ranch and other alternatives, Xcel has looked at the possibility of hauling the 1.8 million tons of coal it uses annually on Routt County Road 27, seeking a special-use permit through Routt County.

Routt County commissioners approved the permit Tuesday. If Xcel chooses to use the road for its coal delivery, Xcel must make several stipulated improvements to the road. The company also is exploring other options, Diehl said.

In deciding how it will transport coal to Hayden Station, Xcel will consider engineering factors; rail hauling versus truck hauling; environmental factors; public acceptance; the ability to obtain legal permits; the ability to obtain rights of way; and other economic factors, Diehl said.

Xcel will hold the public meeting to discuss the options at Carpenter Ranch because of its central location to the proposed options, Diehl said.

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