Xcel narrows options for rail line to haul coal

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— Xcel Energy has narrowed its options for a rail spur that would supply coal to the Hayden Station power plant.

Draft proposals for the location of the spur have been distributed to local officials. Xcel is seeking feedback as the planning process continues. A letter at the beginning of the binder addressed to Routt County planner Chad Phillips summarizes the options.

Xcel is seeking a special-use permit to build the rail.

"None of the options is without its downside," wrote Michael Diehl, principal agent for siting and land rights with Xcel.

In late June, Xcel held a meeting in Hayden to collect feedback from residents and local officials on seven different locations for a rail line. Xcel has since narrowed that to three routes.

For years, Xcel, which partially owns and operates the Hayden Station, has been working to find a way to get coal to the power plant via rail. Most agree that the continued trucking of coal to the plant is not desirable, and company leaders think rail access will help provide a reliable source of fuel. Finding the right place to tie into the existing Union Pacific mainline rail traveling along U.S. Highway 40 has not been easy. Challenges include the disruption of traffic on U.S. Highway 40, negative effects on the environment and private landowners not wanting the rail on their property.

Of the three routes proposed by Xcel, the county has already denied the option known as option 2A.

In January 2005, county commissioners 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.

In the letter, Diehl wrote option 2A is being presented as an option to provide a comparison to the other options. It's also being considered "because one of the most frequently offered public comments at a June public meeting in Hayden suggests that 2A be reconsidered as a viable route alternative."

Option 2A crosses property owned by Tim Nelson and Rosamond Garcia.

The second option, 1C, involves tying into the mainline in the Mount Harris Region before it crosses U.S. Highway 40. This option would require a rail bridge across the Yampa River. There could be environmental impacts with this option.

"The biggest challenge is the wetlands," Phillips said.

The third option, 6D-2, would put the rail on land owned by Peabody Coal Co., the Colorado State Land Board, Seneca Coal Co. and Duane and Darrell Hockett.

The rail would cross under U.S. Highway 40 and run nearly parallel to existing tracks owned by Peabody just east of Hayden. Xcel proposes taking the coal to a load-off area that would be located on Hockett's property. The coal would then be trucked more than two miles along a haul road to the power plant. Officials have expressed concern about the rail being located directly next to the town and that the coal would still have to be trucked to the plant.

As planning progresses, the county has decided to hire a consultant to provide expertise and facilitate future discussions.

"We don't have anyone on staff that is a rail-line transportation engineer," Phillips said.

Routt County commissioners will discuss the scope of the work to be conducted by the consultant at 3 p.m. today at the Routt County Courthouse Annex.

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