New route picked for Montana coal railroad

2012-12-17T16:10:00Z 2013-07-07T10:21:10Z New route picked for Montana coal railroadThe Associated Press The Associated Press
December 17, 2012 4:10 pm  • 

Owners of a railroad that would open Montana's coal fields to increased mining offered a new route for the disputed line on Monday, which backers said would be shorter and affect fewer landowners.

A spokeswoman for BNSF Railway Co. said the 42-mile new route would link up with an existing rail line in Colstrip to reach a proposed coal mine near Ashland. That's down from 83 miles under the owners' prior preferred route through Miles City.

It also would avoid a state fish hatchery in Miles City that had emerged as a potential obstacle to approval. The price tag dropped from previous estimates of $490 million to roughly $416 million, spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg said.

But landowners and conservation groups have fought the project for decades, and it's unlikely the changes will fully satisfy the railroad's critics.

The long-stalled railroad was bought last year by BNSF Railway, Arch Coal Inc. and billionaire Forrest Mars Jr., following decades of delays due to court challenges and financing hurdles.

It's intended to carry up to 20 million tons of coal annually from Arch's proposed Otter Creek mine to West Coast ports, where the fuel would be loaded onto ships for export to Asia.

Approval from the Surface Transportation Board is needed before construction could begin. A revised application for the project was submitted to the board on Monday, Lundsberg said.

An STB spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The revised application had not been posted to the agency's website late Monday.

The STB held public meetings on the proposed railroad in November, and recently extended the initial public comment period on the proposal until Jan. 11.

The Colstrip route had been considered in the past, but was rejected due to the steeper grades that trains would have to surmount to move loads out of the coal-rich Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border. Under the STB's environmental review process, the Colstrip route will be one of several alternative alignments considered.

Lundsberg said changes in industry practices — such as using locomotives at the back of trains to push heavy loads up steep sections of track — made the Colstrip route is newly viable.

"Our engineering team did some preliminary research and determined it can be efficiently operated," she said.

Rancher Clint McRae, who owns a ranch near Colstrip, said the new route would cut through his property for eight miles or more, setting the stage for his cattle operation to be severely disrupted.

If approved, the railroad would be able to use eminent domain to acquire the land it needs.

"I am not the least bit interested in having a private, for-profit corporation use the power of eminent domain to condemn my private land so we can export coal to China," McRae said. "This is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to slide something under the radar."

Economists have projected that the mine and railroad combined could generate almost 2,000 temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent mining jobs. McRae and others have warned that would come at the expense of rural communities along the line, and they say burning the coal could worsen climate change.

In an application for the project submitted in October, month, the railroad relied in part on information from the original proposal for the line from 1983. The Surface Transportation Board said in a Nov. 1 decision that it wanted up-to-date information, including more details on the line's ownership structure.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. rathergolf
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    rathergolf - January 11, 2013 3:41 pm
    Again, no map has been published yet so we don't know IF a sustainable business is being adversely affected.
  2. rathergolf
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    rathergolf - January 11, 2013 3:40 pm
    Too bad there hasn't been a map of the new route published yet so we really don't know IF there is any of McRae's property affected. His role in NPRC is to object to EVERYTHING.
  3. Absaroka hunter
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    Absaroka hunter - December 18, 2012 2:47 pm
    I'm sure you won't mind if I open a mosque or strip club on my property adjacent to yours, then will ya? Or how 'bout I just play loud rap music on my property adjacent to yours all night long? Better yet, I'll just purchase a herd of wild bison to run on my property next to yours.

    Yeah, that's what I thought.
  4. Jamey
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    Jamey - December 18, 2012 5:14 am
    Good idea, impair a sustainable business so that we can export coal to China.
  5. Jamey
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    Jamey - December 18, 2012 5:12 am
    Too bad somebody else is doing what they want with McRae's property. The Railroad's goals and procedures to acquire McRae's property kind of blows a hole in your comment.
  6. wxob
    Report Abuse
    wxob - December 18, 2012 2:23 am
    Let the railroad fence its right-of-way and construct a few bridges to herd cattle under the tracks. Problem solved.
  7. billy banger
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    billy banger - December 17, 2012 9:22 pm
    I have been saying this for several years and it will disrupt fewer ranches.
  8. uknowit
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    uknowit - December 17, 2012 9:11 pm
    Those ranchers don't complain about the Interstates, roads, runways, and railways available to use whenever they need them. It's OK to cross other people's property in the name of progress but they have to be obstructionists.
  9. Zebra
    Report Abuse
    Zebra - December 17, 2012 8:45 pm
    Let's start building, I know about 75 people that need a job in January and then there is the 6% of Montana that is unemployed right now. People that are worried about climate change should understand that Asia is going burn coal regardless. The coal coming from the PRB is the cleanest, least harmful coal in the world. Otherwise they'll get there coal from Indonesia and their own coal that is very high in sulfer, Burning MT & WY coal will slow the process and give us time to develop clean energy alternatives that can sustain and hold up to the demand.
  10. WatchingU
    Report Abuse
    WatchingU - December 17, 2012 8:43 pm
    What people do with their property is their business.
    Do what you want with your own property.
  11. Living Good
    Report Abuse
    Living Good - December 17, 2012 7:20 pm
    McRae would complain no matter what. Funny the county road goes through their property with fences on both sides of the road.
  12. nospin
    Report Abuse
    nospin - December 17, 2012 6:34 pm
    The more wealth of the participants, the more money there is to be had, the more we look the other way as they plunder the earth and air.
  13. ani
    Report Abuse
    ani - December 17, 2012 5:56 pm
    I hope there is a map soon.

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