Routt County commissioners approved Xcel Energy's request for a new permit to haul as much as 900,000 tons of coal a year on a county road, but at a cost.
All three county commissioners agreed to charge Xcel $3 a ton of hauled coal to pay for road improvements to Routt County Road 27. The haul will be on 13.5 miles of Routt County Road 27 to bring Xcel's Hayden Power Station coal from Twentymile Coal Mine.
County commissioners also agreed that the approval was for a temporary solution and that Xcel should find a better way to get coal for its Hayden Station during the long term. The permit will expire in six years or when Xcel reaches 1.5 million tons of coal, whichever comes first.
The Hayden Station needs to get coal from Twentymile because the Seneca Mine could close by the end of the year.
"The emergency for the power plant does not constitute an emergency for the county," County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
He said the county's priority was safety and that Xcel needed to "step up" to make the road safe. He suggested the $3 a ton fee, higher than the $2 a ton fee previously suggested.
"Our constituents are paying for this coal haul right now," Monger said.
The fee should create an incentive for Xcel to make other options work, he said.
Monger also said he was concerned that Xcel didn't take advantage of a previously issued permit that would have solved its potential coal shortage.
Xcel received a permit in 2004 to haul 1.8 million tons of coal each year on the road. However, that permit required Xcel to upgrade a 3.5-mile section of road.
When asked why Xcel chose not to use that permit earlier, Hayden Station Director Frank Roitsch said there were several reasons. One, he said, was that Xcel wanted the permit mostly as a negotiating tool with the railroad.
Roitsch said Xcel was surprised when Seneca announced in recent months that it would close by the end of the year.
County Commissioner Nan-cy Stahoviak said that although the coal mines and power plants in the area provide important jobs and revenues, she thought Xcel should have been looking far ahead to be prepared for such a situation.
The $3 a ton charge should encourage Xcel to move on to another alternative soon.
"We need to find a way to push this to a viable rail option that will work with everyone," she said.
County Commissioner Dan Ellison said he worried the county only was getting to see "one page at a time" of some of the issues involved.
County commissioners ag-reed that County Road 27 never was intended to serve as a coal haul road.
The Routt County Planning Commission was split about whether to recommend approval of the request.
Laurie Hallenbeck, who lives and ranches near the road, said increased truck traffic would make it more dangerous for everyone on the road and more difficult to ranch.
"We are tired of the dust, the noise and living in fear somebody or something is going to get killed," she said.
One major concern is in--creased truck traffic on the road. Hauling 900,000 tons on the road each year could mean 230 one-way truck trips daily for six days a week.
The approved permit amends a 2000 permit that let Xcel haul 300,000 tons of coal a year from Twentymile Coal Company. That permit expires in 2006, but in May, Xcel will have reached its 300,000-ton limit for this year.
The county has approved a longer-term temporary solution -- the Hayden Gulch terminal -- but that could take time and may not be feasible.
Plans are in the works for a permanent method of getting coal from Twentymile to the Hayden Station. County commissioners denied one option for a permanent solution April 12.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com