Xcel rail spur up for discussion

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— Xcel Energy's application for a controversial rail spur from the Union Pacific mainline to the Hayden Station power plant will go before the Routt County Planning Commission tonight. Xcel's application is the only item on the commission's agenda.

The proposed rail line would extend from the east end of the Carpenter Ranch southeast to the coal-fired Hayden Station. A new overpass would be built to take the line across U.S. Highway 40 about 200 yards west of where the highway crosses the Yampa River. Approximately 10,500 feet of rail would be constructed in addition to an at-grade crossing over Routt County Road 27.

Officials with the Nature Conservancy-owned Carpenter Ranch are against the rail spur, saying it will adversely affect the ecosystem there.

"We're opposed to it," said Geoff Blakeslee, Yampa Valley project director for the Nature Conservancy. "I just think it's an inappropriate structure for this location."

But Xcel Energy officials say this is their only option left for the rail spur, which is four years in the making and intended to provide a reliable source of fuel to Hayden Station in the future. Most of the plant's coal is shipped via trucks from Peabody Energy's Twentymile Coal Mine. Xcel's contract with Twentymile ends in 2011, and Xcel officials hope to use the rail spur to deliver coal from other mines to the west.

The rail line would traverse the ranch on an existing right of way controlled by Xcel. The Routt County Board of Commissioners rejected a previous rail line proposal that would have gone across a conservation easement on the Carpenter Ranch. That easement prevents industrial developments. All other options for the rail line would have to go across private property.

"There are no willing property owners," said Mary Brown, an Xcel lobbyist.

Brown said only one train a day, or five trains a week, would travel the rail line. Regardless of the frequency of train traffic, Blakeslee said the spur and its retaining walls would create a dangerous situation that would funnel wildlife such as elk onto U.S. 40. Xcel officials said they will mitigate that concern with a series of bridges that would allow safe travel for wildlife.

Planning Director Chad Phillips said a total of 40 letters were submitted for public comment regarding the rail spur. Phillips said opinions in the letters are mixed, but that most oppose the project.

Despite opposition, the project is likely to keep moving forward toward a hearing with the Routt County Board of Commissioners at 6 p.m. Sept. 24 because of a statute that requires the application be approved or denied within 90 days of its submittal.

Blakeslee said the Nature Conservancy holds out hope for the project to be revisited.

"I just don't know what the county's going to do," he said. "I think they're in a tough spot. This has been going on for a long time."

If the project is approved, construction of the rail line would begin next summer and be completed in 2011.

Comments

Malcolm_Reynolds 7 years, 3 months ago

The Excel right of way was in place long before The Nature Conservancy purchased the property. They should have known the right of way would possibly be used in the future.

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Hayden_Resident 7 years, 3 months ago

I'm sure the Nature Conservancy was aware of the remote possibility of the right of way being used again but I doubt anyone would have imagined ten years ago that anything as ludicrous as a 27 foot high by 3,500 foot long concrete wall would be built on the right of way. The current rail spur on the right of way is not very obtrusive (especially because there are large cottonwood trees growing right out of the middle of it) and it wouldn't be such a big problem to simply reactivate it. The point is not whether the right of way exists or can be used but how it is used and the vast difference in the amount of impact.

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1234 7 years, 3 months ago

wow, this rail thing has a lot of people going in some way off directions, if it is there right of way, they can use it how they see fit. the big wall might even help in some ways. a place for birds to nest,and eat all those little bugs that we hate so bad, oh no what are we going to do about all those bugs? do we have a group to protect them? well if everyone hates those little bugs then the bugs are just shi-- out of luck. this wall might even put some looks into the flat on going look it has now. so-- hayden res. how would you do it? also need to do it in a way not to raise your elec. bill more than it is now!!!

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Hayden_Resident 7 years, 3 months ago

in response to the posting by 1234: You are absolutely right many people from all different places and walks of life have strong opinions about the possible location of this rail spur. That is why it is so important for people to get involved in the public process and also be able to express their opinions in forums such as this. I disagree with you that an industrial highway bridge will improve the view or the bird habitat in what is currently a lovely and open agricultural area. I am not an engineer so I can't tell you how I think a RR spur should be built but I do think there are other options available to Xcel that would neither raise electric bills nor have so many negative visual and safety impacts for our community.

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fish 7 years, 3 months ago

I guess the Nature conservancy should have asked Xcel energy to give up the rights to their right of way before they bought the land. They didn't so now they should stop whining about it.

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