Planning advises to OK permit

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The Routt County Planning Commission recommended on Thursday that a request from Peabody Energy for a special-use permit to unload coal at its Hayden Gulch facility be approved.

The permit would let Peabody deliver coal to Xcel Energy's Hayden Power Station, which will lose its primary source of coal when the nearby Seneca Mine closes this year, for the next three years.

Before the unanimous recommendation for approval, several planning commissioners said it was important that the permit serve only as a temporary solution.

Planning Commissioner Fred Nichols asked whether the solution really was meant to be just for the short term.

Chuck Burggraf, group executive for Colorado Operations for Peabody, said the intent was that the facility would be used for only two years, at which point a permanent solution should be in place.

Commissioners also expressed concerns that the train crossing at U.S. Highway 40 involved in the delivery could back up traffic for miles if a train came during a rush hour.

The permit still has to be approved by the Routt County Board of Commissioners, which could OK it later this month.

The issue came before the Planning Commission at its Jan. 20 meeting, but it was tabled in order to find out whether the Public Utilities Commission or the Colorado Department of Transportation would require a rail overpass or separated-grade crossing of U.S. 40, and to get a plan to mitigate visual and auditory effects of the trains on The Haven Assisted Living Center, located near the spur.

John Weinman, project manager with Hydro-Environmental Solutions Inc., said staff with the Public Utilities Commission said it was OK to run trains across the U.S. 40 crossing, but that the PUC could order upgrades to the crossings if they are needed.

Weinman also presented an agreement with officials from The Haven that stated that landscaping would be installed to lessen the effects from the trains.

Hayden Mayor Chuck Grobe told the Planning Commission that the Hayden Gulch Terminal was a positive short-term solution but was not Hayden's preferred solution for the long term.

Sharon Nereson, who lives with her husband and family near the facility, said that approval of the Hayden Gulch Terminal would decrease her family's quality of life.

Under the permit, trains would access Hayden Gulch, which last was used as a coal-loading facility in 1995, from an existing spur off the Union Pacific mainline east of Hayden. The spur crosses U.S. 40 before heading south about 1.3 miles, where it crosses Routt County Road 37 near the gulch.

Trucks then would haul coal to the Hayden Station on an existing haul road.

About five trains would use the Hayden Gulch each week. Train crossings on U.S. 40 and on C.R. 37 could last for three to five minutes each, officials said Thursday.

If the project receives final approval from the county, it still must receive various other permits related to air quality, water and other aspects.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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