County OKs Xcel rail spur | SteamboatToday.com

County OKs Xcel rail spur

Commissioners unanimously approve special use permit

Melinda Dudley

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday night Xcel Energy’s special use permit for a rail spur to deliver coal to Hayden Station.

The rail spur will be subject to a number of conditions enumerated by the board, the most controversial of which is the condition that Xcel build and solely fund a separated-grade crossing over Routt County Road 27.

The spur would leave the Union Pacific main line and travel through a portion of the Nature Conservancy-owned Carpenter Ranch, crossing U.S. Highway 40 as well as C.R. 27.

The commissioners cited safety concerns, future traffic growth, and emergency vehicle travel on C.R. 27 as factors necessitating a rail spur raised over the road by a bridge instead of crossing at grade.

Xcel does not believe a separated-grade crossing is necessary over C.R. 27, based on traffic counts and the availability of alternate routes for emergency vehicles, said Mary Brown, a lobbyist obtained by Xcel Energy.

“It would be our intent to appeal to the Public Utilities Commission,” Brown said.

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The pending appeal has been expected by the county commissioners, who were unwavering in their support of a separated-grade crossing. Last week, the board obtained legal representation specializing in PUC matters to represent the county in an appeal.

While County Road 27 may not currently have the traffic figures to necessitate a separated-grade crossing, it will become necessary in the future, commissioner Doug Monger said.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush emphasized that C.R. 27 is a central artery between Oak Creek and Hayden, and will be used as a school bus route in the future.

“The traffic that travels on that road is important, and we need to consider the safety of that traffic,” commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Xcel was not alone in its opposition to the separated-grade crossing. Among its vocal supporters was the chief of the West Routt Fire Protection District, who said train travel across the road would have minimal impact on emergency response and that alternate routes were sufficient.

If Xcel successfully appeals the separated-grade crossing, the conditions of the special use permit would require the power company to build and fund improvements to the intersection, including realignment so C.R. 27 intersects the tracks at an angle greater than 60 degrees.

Once constructed, delivery on the rail spur would begin after Xcel’s current coal contract with Peabody Energy terminates in 2011.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com