Xcel back to drawing board for rail plan

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Xcel Energy officials are heading back to the drawing board to find a long-term coal-delivery solution for the Hayden Power Station.

This time, they want the Routt County Planning Department and other stakeholders to be directly involved in the process.

Xcel officials have been searching for a way to haul coal to the station since Peabody Energy, which owns the nearby Seneca Coal Mine, announced that the mine would close by the end of this year.

Until recently, the mine has provided nearly all of the coal -- about 1.8 million tons annually -- to power the station.

Now, the power station gets half its coal from the Twentymile Coal Mine, also owned by Peabody Energy, power station Director Frank Roitsch told Hayden Town Board members Thursday.

Xcel and Peabody are in the final stages of negotiating a contract to provide coal from Twentymile Coal Mine through 2011, he said.

The companies expect reserves there will be depleted in 2012, according to a written plan Xcel officials provided the Town Board.

Michael Diehl, principal agent for siting and land rights with Xcel, told board members that next year, the company needs to have a permanent plan in place for delivering coal from Twentymile and other regional mines. Xcel officials have no specific plans in the works, but in October, they plan to hold a public work session in Hayden with Routt County planners, Hayden officials and other parties interested in developing a viable solution, Diehl said.

"We all agree, I think, that rail is the best alternative, and we are committed to a strong public process," he told Town Board members. "Get involved, make your interests clear and known."

Earlier this year, Xcel proposed building a railroad spur from Union Pacific's mainline through Carpenter Ranch property and to the station. The spur would have run through part of the ranch and other private properties and under U.S. Highway 40.

Routt County Commissioners rejected the proposal in April because of conflicts with conservation easements on Carpenter Ranch and other concerns.

However, commissioners have said they prefer long-term coal delivery to be done by rail, not trucks, particularly because Rout County Road 27 was not built to handle heavy truck traffic.

For now, hauling coal by trucks is the best short-term solution until a rail system is built, Xcel officials said.

The company has activated a 2004 special-use permit allowing it to haul 1.8 million tons of coal a year by truck on C.R. 27, provided that the company improves several miles of the road and the entrance to the mine.

In the meantime, Xcel is using a permit approved earlier this year that allows trucks to haul half of the power station's annual coal supply on the road.

Another short-term option for delivering coal involved bringing the coal by rail to the Hayden Gulch Terminal, a former coal-loading facility owned by Peabody Energy southeast of Hayden.

County commissioners ap--proved a permit this year that allows Peabody to unload coal at the terminal. From there, Xcel would truck the coal to Hayden Power Station primarily on private haul roads.

The permit was valid for three years -- too short a timeframe for an interim solution, Roitsch wrote in a letter to the Town Board.

Xcel officials have discussed their plans for hauling coal by truck with the Hayden School District, which currently does not have any bus routes on C.R. 27.

When buses return to the road, Xcel officials plan to install electronic road signs and CB radios in trucks to inform drivers when children are on the road, Roitsch said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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