Members of the Routt County and Hayden planning commissions will put their noses to the grindstone Thursday to find a rail route for bringing coal to the Hayden Power Station.
Xcel Energy officials suggested the public work session as the first of several meetings to narrow options for a viable long-term solution.
However, Chad Phillips, ass--istant director of the county planning department, notes in a staff report that a preferred option or options could be established in one meeting because county officials are familiar with the land and possible routes.
Xcel hauls about 900,000 tons of coal a year -- about half its annual supply -- by truck on Routt County Road 27 from the Twentymile Coal Mine. That mine soon will replace the Seneca Coal Mine as the station's primary coal source.
The Routt County Planning Commission and county commissioners have said they want to minimize large trucks on county roads and prefer coal delivery by rail in the long run.
In January, they turned down Xcel's proposal to build a spur from the Union Pacific mainline on the Carpenter Ranch south to the station because it would have affected a conservation easement partially owned by the county.
County commissioners asked Xcel not to propose another new rail line across the ranch and easement.
In a pre-application submitted last month, Xcel officials proposed cleaning the slate and prioritizing resources including wildlife, agricultural lands and view sheds to establish a new option. They also wanted more people involved in the process.
Notices about Thursday's meeting were sent to residents living in the study area between Mount Harris Canyon and Hayden.
Hayden Town Manager Russ Martin said that although Xcel has kept the Hayden Town Board updated about its plans, it's good for the Hayden Planning Commission to join the process because it deals primarily in land use issues.
Although the Xcel topic tends to be a hot-button issue, some people still aren't aware that Xcel's former proposal was denied, Martin said.
"Generally, I don't think the public understands they're starting over," he said.
However, Phillips questioned whether it's necessary to "start all over," considering Xcel submitted extensive research with its last submittal and officials are well-acquainted with various options -- though it's important to be open to any alternatives that have not been explored, he said.
Michael Diehl, principal agent for siting and land rights with Xcel, said he expected the process, with more people, would require multiple meetings. However, he would welcome a direction from officials Thursday so Xcel can proceed with the application process.
"That's our ultimate goal, of course, the sooner the better," he said.
Phillip's report notes that county officials last spring suggested Xcel focus on other options involving existing rail spurs -- one east of the U.S. Highway 40 bridge over the Yampa River and another on the Carpenter Ranch.
That spur and rail easement, located east of the former proposal, pre-existed the conservation easement on the ranch.
County officials also suggested a possible rail route between the Hayden Gulch Terminal southeast of Hayden and the Hayden Station. The terminal formerly was used to load Seneca coal on outgoing trains.
The Hayden Station provides electricity to more than 400,000 households in Colorado. Yampa Valley Electric Association receives about 95 percent of its power from Xcel, and it's likely that a portion of that comes from the Hayden Station, Diehl said.
Xcel needs to have a rail plan approved by June to have it built by 2011, when coal supplies at Twentymile Coal Mine are expected to run out, he said.
At that point, the station will use coal from other regional sources.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.