Xcel to double coal loads

County approves company's request to haul along road

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A company that supplies energy to Routt County will be allowed to double the amount of coal it hauls along a county road.

In a 2-1 vote on Tuesday, Routt County commissioners approved Xcel Energy's request to amend a special-use permit for hauling coal along Routt County Road 27.

What: Joint work session of Routt County and Hayden planning commissions

When: 6:30 p.m. today

What: Routt County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, 365 S. Poplar St., Hayden

The company has been hauling about 900,000 tons of coal a year -- half of the 1.8 million tons it uses -- from Twentymile Mine to help fuel the Hayden Power Station. The other half has come from the Seneca II West mine, which is set to close at the end of the year.

The amendment commissioners approved allows Xcel to double the amount of coal drivers haul from Twentymile Mine to accommodate the closing of the Seneca mine. Drivers are using 25-ton trucks to make about 272 one-way trips a day; they now will be able to make 544 trips a day, equal to 34 an hour.

The amendment change also will allow Xcel officials to move forward with plans to start using 44-ton trucks, which would make 310 one-way trips a day. That change is contingent upon approval by Road and Bridge Department officials.

County planning commissioners and county commissioners have expressed concern with use of the trucks along C.R. 27, which they say was not built to handle heavy loads. Area residents and motorists who use the road also have expressed safety concerns with the trucks.

The county commissioners' discussion on Tuesday lasted more than two hours, and they said Wednesday that coming to a decision was difficult.

Nancy Stahoviak, the dissenting vote, said the decision came down to choosing between the needs of the energy company and the welfare of residents.

"I felt that we had gotten to a point that the health, safety and welfare of citizens living along that road was at risk," she said. "I could no longer in good conscience accept that."

Commissioner Dan Ellison said the company would need to keep working with county officials to come up with a better method to haul coal.

The permit amendment "seemed like a practical alternative, but not necessarily the best solution," he said.

Xcel officials have discussed with the county the possibility of hauling coal by rail, but no project has been approved. Routt County and Hayden planning commissioners are set to meet tonight to discuss a pre-application to identify new railroad access to the Hayden Station.

The permit amendment commissioners approved on Tuesday will apply for only one year. Another permit would allow company officials to use 70-ton trucks, but they cannot do so until improvements to C.R. 27 are complete. The company must pay for those improvements, which will be complete, at the earliest, by fall 2006, county staff said.

Commissioners also said that Xcel must add a number label and a sign listing a phone number on each truck. Motorists will be able to call the phone number if they have safety concerns with the way a truck is driven.

Xcel officials also asked commissioners to amend the $3-a-ton fee the company must pay. Commissioners did not approve the change, but they did emphasize that those fees, which go toward the improvement of C.R. 27, must be paid quarterly.

Stahoviak said she would keep a close eye on the company's future plans for hauling coal by rail.

"I'm just hoping they can work it out with the railroad to come up with an option that is acceptable to everyone."

In other business, county commissioners:

n Approved the final plat for the Neighborhoods at Young's Peak 111-lot, 136-unit subdivision in Stagecoach.

n Approved a special-use permit for construction and operation of a private airstrip at the Chicken Creek Ranch off C.R. 82.

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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