Steamboat Springs Routt County is bringing in outside expertise to help sort through Xcel Energy's proposal for a new rail line to haul coal.
Routt County commissioners interviewed three consulting firms on Tuesday and decided on the Denver-based Parsons Brinckerhoff firm.
"I'm glad this day is here," said Routt County Planner Chad Phillips. "It will be definitely beneficial to have these guys on board."
Xcel Energy will reimburse the county for the cost of the work to be performed by the consulting firm.
"They're good not only from the engineering point of view but also with how they communicate with the public," Phillips said. "Another thing was their ability to measure environmental impacts."
Xcel's efforts to build a new rail line to its power plant near Hayden has been in the works for more than three years.
Hayden, Routt County and Xcel agree on on thing - none wants county roads to be used to carry coal from the Twentymile Coal Co. to the Hayden Station.
Xcel has focused on connecting the plant to the main railroad line running along U.S. Highway 40 via a rail spur. Xcel has come up with multiple alternatives that would connect the plant to the main line using a wye connection.
Flaws, ranging from environmental damage to disruption of traffic on U.S. Highway 40, have been identified with all of the options. Nearby landowners have objected to the proposal and some Hayden residents fear values were being compromised, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
"The whole thing has been very gut wrenching," said Monger, who lives in Hayden. "Instead of bringing people together, we have been tearing people apart. Hopefully, we can regroup and have further discussions on this."
Xcel's latest preferred alternative rail option involves using land already owned by Xcel that was formerly used to connect the plant to the main line when the plant was being built. The problem is that the alternative does not allow for a wye connection, but Xcel thinks it will work.
Xcel has submitted a preliminary application to Routt County for a special-use permit. Three other alternatives are included in the preliminary application. The preliminary application allows the county to give Xcel feedback before the company submits its final application.
A pre-application hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18, Phillips said. Both the Routt County and Hayden Planning commissions will be at the hearing.
Routt County commissioners would then hold a hearing in early February, Phillips said.