More than 60 people came with comments, questions or open ears to a meeting Thursday night that addressed possible rail options for hauling coal near Hayden.
During the 3 1/2-hour work session, planning commissioners from Routt County and Hayden also shared their thoughts with Xcel Energy officials.
The energy company currently hauls 900,000 tons of coal a year -- about half of its annual supply -- by truck on Routt County Road 27 from Twentymile Mine to the Hayden Station.
This week, Routt County commissioners granted the company a permit change that will allow drivers to haul all 1.8 million tons along the county road. Company officials requested the change because the Seneca Mine, which has supplied about half of the station's coal, is set to close at the end of the year.
The permit does not mean that county officials are happy with the current setup. C.R. 27 was not built for heavy loads, officials have said, and they are worried about the safety of other motorists on the road.
County and company officials agree: The best solution is to haul coal by rail. The county already denied one Xcel rail proposal because it ran along a conservation easement. Thursday night's meeting was intended to bring other options to the public and the county.
Michael Diehl, principal agent for siting and land rights with Xcel, presented three options Thursday and opened the table to questions or to any other proposals people might have.
"It's a really important decision for the county, and we are here as a resource to you," Diehl said.
Public comment during the meeting lasted about an hour, with the majority of people standing to ask questions. However, there were some comments.
Gary Stone, a Hayden resident who works at the plant, had a suggestion for Xcel: "If it would be further away from town, it would affect less people."
Ron Nereson also was worried about the rail spur's proximity to residences -- including his. Nereson lives near the Hayden Gulch, which is central to one of the proposals. He is worried about noise and light pollution near his home.
Nancy Merrill, who lives in Hayden and is an avid birder, said she was worried about rail spurs crossing the Carpenter Ranch, the Yampa Preserve and other birding spots.
Birding "is a very, very special part of the heritage of this valley" and is an activity that generates a lot of tourist revenue, Merrill said.
Sam Haslem, who has been a pilot for 59 years, said he didn't like any proposal that brought tracks close to Yampa Valley Regional Airport's runways.
Tammie Delaney, who lives north of Hayden, said she was concerned about agricultural lands and keeping wildlife habitat intact.
"I can't help but think that we can come up with something that works for everyone," she said.
Diehl said Xcel officials would consider sharing all three proposals with the Colorado Division of Wildlife for input.
Xcel officials have proposed that there be a series of work sessions about rail options, leading to guidance from planning commissioners about their preferred location. Routt County planning commissioners will review any proposals. Hayden planning commissioners were on hand Thursday for input.
However, commissioners were not meeting to pick the location, only to provide guidance, said Routt County Planning Commission vice chairwoman Diane Mitsch Bush. She said she hoped Thursday's meeting would lead to an application.
Commissioner John Ayer said that he was not fully satisfied with any of the options presented and that they all had downsides. He also said he hopes to see a plan that addresses future sites where the company might purchase coal.
"I don't want to deal with the same issue in another part of the county," Ayer said.
Commissioners agreed to meet with other planning commissions to learn more about the future of coal mining in Routt County.
Commissioner Terry Hunter said he would prefer that a proposal be far from Hayden and not cross U.S. Highway 40.
Commissioner Jay Gallagher agreed about growth in Hayden.
"Any solution needs to take into account the growing town of Hayden," he said.
Fred Nichols and Mitsch Bush said they were proponents of choosing the best option possible.
Mitsch Bush said, "We will approve only if it looks to us to be the most beneficial to the community."