The Routt County Planning Commission's hesitancy to grant Xcel Energy a new special-use permit to haul coal on Routt County Road 27 was warranted.
On April 7, the commission voted 3-3 to deny the permit. The split vote essentially serves as a denial, and we hope county commissioners follow that recommendation. In our opinion, Xcel's request will have significant affect on C.R. 27, and the company should be required to upgrade and maintain the road as a condition of its permit.
In the past, Xcel has lobbied successfully for special permits to haul coal by truck in emergency situations. In 2000, Xcel was given a permit to haul 300,000 tons of coal a year from Twentymile Coal Company. That permit expires in 2006.
In January 2004, Xcel was granted a permit allowing it to haul up to 1.8 million tons of coal per year on C.R. 27. The permit was conditional -- in exchange, Xcel agreed to pay to upgrade a 3.5-mile stretch of the road to handle the coal traffic.
The road upgrade will cost millions. However, it's a reasonable price for Xcel to pay for access to a steady supply of coal for its Hayden Power Station.
At the time of the 2004 permit, Xcel thought it would be for emergency use only, if at all. The company thought it had a stable supply of coal from the Peabody surface mine through 2007 or later, said Frank Roitsch, director of the Hayden Station. Coal from the surface mine is delivered by train.
But Peabody announced last fall that it will close the surface mine at the end of this year, forcing Xcel to find a solution for getting coal to Hayden sooner than the company anticipated.
So Xcel came before the Planning Commission with a new proposal. Under the plan, Xcel would haul 900,000 tons of coal per year on the road and pay the county $1 per ton for road maintenance. The way planning commissioner Fred Nichols sees it, Xcel is trying to get out of paying for the road upgrades. We agree.
Routt County Road and Bridge director Paul Draper said hauling 900,000 tons on the road each year would mean 230 one-way truck trips each day. Draper said that could mean one truck every four minutes. Residents who live along the road are rightfully concerned about the noise, dust and dangers such traffic could cause -- not to mention the effects on the condition of the road itself. Xcel's offer of up to $900,000 per year won't mitigate the damage.
We understand Xcel's predicament. The Hayden Power Station needs coal and, without the surface mine, that coal will have to be trucked until an acceptable rail option is determined.
Long-term, Xcel has proposed running a rail line through a conservation easement on the Carpenter Ranch and other properties for coal delivery. There is significant opposition to that proposal, and last week, Routt County commissioners voted to deny it. We had urged Xcel to consider other options for the rail line and agree with the county's decision.
It's true that costs such as road improvements that are incurred by Xcel ultimately are passed along to us, the consumers. But such costs are minimal, and Xcel is in better shape to absorb that burden than Routt County. More importantly, if Xcel is going to haul that much coal over the road, the company should be responsible for the necessary upgrades and improvements. It's simply the right thing to do.