Xcel plan all but official

Commissioners put conditions on rail spur

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Mary Brown, representing Xcel Energy, speaks to the Routt County Board of Commissioners in front of a room filled with people Monday night at the Routt County Courthouse Annex. Xcel was seeking approval from the county to build a rail spur east of Hayden to supply the Hayden Station power plant with coal.

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Hayden rail spur

Xcel representative Mary Brown and Geoff Blakeslee with the Nature Conservancy address the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday night.

Xcel representative Mary Brown and Geoff Blakeslee with the Nature Conservancy address the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday night.

— Barring an enormous change of heart from the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Xcel Energy's long sought-after rail spur will be approved.

Officially, the commissioners postponed their decision Monday night on Xcel's application for a rail spur east of Hayden that would connect the Union Pacific mainline to the Hayden Station power plant. Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger stated their intention to approve Xcel's request after county staffers finish wording the various conditions the commissioners will include with the approval. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said she would reserve her decision until she sees the conditions in their final form.

The final approval is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 16. The conditions will be made available to the public one week before that meeting. The meeting likely will end a contentious and exhaustive process that involved the study of 12 alternatives - including a conveyor belt system - for delivering coal from the rail line to the power plant, a previously failed Xcel application that would have involved altering a conservation easement, and a consultant-recommended alternative that was rejected because of a lack of willing property owners.

Xcel officials say the option they presented Monday - one that would see the spur cross a far eastern portion of The Nature Conservancy-owned Carpenter Ranch along an existing right-of way and include a tall retaining wall on its way to a U.S. Highway 40 overpass - was the only workable plan.

Although the majority of public comments at Monday's meeting opposed the rail spur, the commissioners came down on Xcel's side.

"As with virtually all decisions we make, it's a decision of balance," Mitsch Bush said.

Some comments in support of the rail spur application emphasized Xcel's existing property rights, and Stahoviak said there was no way to get around the fact that Xcel was using its own right-of-way.

"No matter how we would want to forget that tonight, we can't," Stahoviak said.

Geoff Blakeslee, The Nature Conservancy's Yampa Valley project manager, argued that Xcel's proposal goes above and beyond the intended use of its right-of-way and is inconsistent with the shared values of the community. Others said the Carpenter Ranch's resources should not be compromised for a rail spur to deliver coal.

The commissioners instructed county staff to draft a condition that will require Xcel to deconstruct the spur and restore things to their current state if the rail spur is ever rendered obsolete.

Most notable among the commissioners' proposed conditions of approval, however, was the reintroduction of a condition requiring the spur to include a separated-grade crossing of Routt County Road 27 - at Xcel's expense. Xcel's application included a separated-grade crossing of U.S. Highway 40, but an at-grade crossing of County Road 27.

Mary Brown, a lobbyist employed by Xcel to argue the company's application, contested the condition, but the commissioners were adamant it be included. Brown said Xcel was not opposed to a separated-grade crossing but would be unwilling to cover the entire cost of such a crossing.

Brown said traffic on the road does not meet the Colorado Public Utilities Commission's requirements for such a crossing and indicated Xcel would appeal the condition to the PUC, which could require the county to help pay for the crossing. That possibility failed to dissuade the commissioners.

"I'm ready to move forward and duke it out with the PUC," Monger said.

The commissioners also altered a condition that said Xcel's truck-haul permit on County Road 27 could be amended when the rail spur is complete. The condition was toughened to say that permit would be revoked.

"We are committing to the public that this rail spur will get the trucks off (County Road) 27," Stahoviak said.

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