By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
Moffat County has been designated as one of five possible corridors for the proposed rail spur from Utah into Northwest Colorado.
The proposed $500 million Isolated Empire Rail Project would run from Deseret Generation and Transmission Station in Uintah County, Utah into Northwest Colorado. Sixteen possible routes were identified, but the list was pared to five in early Dec. Four of the proposed corridors involve Moffat County and two of the proposals would also affect Craig.
"We took the 16 potential routes and studied the economic, physical and logistical issues of each. We've basically pared down that 16 to 5, and now we'll be doing additional evaluations," said Rob Katzenson, assistant project manager for the project consultants, LANDesign, LLC. "There will be more detailed reviews for cost, engineering and construction issues, and evaluations of potential cultural, socio-economic and physical problems that would remove a route from consideration."
LANDesign is hired by the state of Utah to do the studies and evaluations.
The four possible routes that involve land in Moffat County travel along Highway 40 in the southwest corner of the county. Three of the possible routes veer southeast and travel along State Highway 64 into Meeker, with one continuing on into Axial. The fourth possible route continues roughly parallel to Hwy 40, and ends in Craig. The fifth possible route would head due south from the Deseret power station, skirt Bonanza, Utah, and continue south to Mack, in Mesa County.
According to Katzenson, the project is still very much a work in progress, and the next round of studies should be done mid- to late 2002.
There are several potential benefits to the project coming through Moffat County, but also a potential drawback.
"The project would be another transportation link into Moffat County," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said. "It's projected that if there were two rail services available, transportation costs for coal would be substantially lower. That could possibly help make any idle mines more cost effective, and allow those mines to reopen.
"A second advantage would be the possible opening of coal markets to the west of us. Most of our coal goes east now, and a new spur would allow the coal produced here to be sold in both directions. But there is a potential risk involved the line could bring Powder River Basin coal into our area, and into our market. The Powder River Basin coal could end up competing with our coal. We don't know the answer to that, but we have asked the question. That is something we will have to look at before we throw our support behind any proposal."
The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado is "keeping tabs" on the project, and reviewing any data that the consultants provide for each step, Hampton said.
Katzenson could not comment on the issue of Utah coal traveling into Moffat County because the research was not complete. The answer to that question, and some questions from all affected entities, could be in the next report.
"The key for us is to be realistic and objective," he said. "Our job is not to determine if one proposed route is feasible we identify problems, and identify what is exactly is involved with each potential corridor. We also let the state of Utah, and the affected counties in Northwest Colorado weigh in with their concerns and questions, and add that to our research."