Officials gather concerns, comments on Tongue River Railroad

2012-11-13T22:00:00Z 2014-08-25T08:30:04Z Officials gather concerns, comments on Tongue River RailroadBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

FORSYTH — The third of 10 public hearings to be held in Eastern Montana on a proposed coal railroad that would run from the Ashland area to Miles City brought in a handful of differing opinions about the impact it would have on the area.

The Tuesday meeting was hosted by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which will conduct an environmental impact study (EIS) of the Tongue River Railroad, in an effort to gather community concerns and comments about the proposed line.

“Our hope is that the information that you provide to us today will help us frame our analysis and understand your concerns,” said Ken Blodgett, an environmental-protection specialist for the transportation board.

The $490 million line would ship coal — as much as 20 million tons each year — from two points south of Ashland to Miles City. Proposed routes for the line would either tie into the existing railroad line near Colstrip or build anew on either side of the Tongue River.

Arch Coal Inc., BNSF Railway and Forrest Mars Jr. bought the railway last year.

About 40 people from the surrounding area showed up for the first of two Tuesday meetings in Forsyth. During the public-comment period, only a handful of people spoke and about half of them said they were in favor of the project while the rest had specific questions or concerns.

“In numerous ways, this is potentially the greatest development opportunity that this state will see in some time,” said Jim Atchison, executive director of Southeast Montana Development.

He said the project could collect as much as $6 billion in tax receipts but that its environmental impacts need to minimized while benefits are maximized.

John Hamilton has about 15 miles of riverfront property, with one of the proposed railroad lines affecting about a mile of that property. He brought several dozen pictures of the land, crops he’s raised, game that can be hunted and area ranchers to show officials “the human face of the land.”

He said before the meeting that he’s concerned that the line running through the area will affect its natural beauty, as well as the water quality from increased activity at the two mines.

“My concerns are not especially the right-of-way issues, but what it does to the neighborhood,” Hamilton said. “It’s one of the most pristine places in Montana.”

Hamilton also expressed concerns that the coal would be shipped overseas.

"In this particular case, we have the state of Montana, which is seeing dollar signs, a railroad that's seeing dollar signs and the coal company is seeing dollar signs," he said. "But these dollar signs could all be shipping to China."

Leonard Colvin told officials that he supports the project but felt the best of the three routes was to connect with the existing lines south of Colstrip so as to "disturb less land."

Rosebud County Commissioner Doug Martens briefly spoke, asking the federal officials to ensure that there's an active discussion about how to minimize the impact on roads in the area, especially around bridges.

As the meeting's public-comment session began, Blodgett told the group gathered there that all of the comments received by Dec. 6 will be taken into consideration and that it's an important step in the EIS process.

"This scoping meeting represents one of the first opportunities for the public (to comment)," he said.

Similar meetings will be held Wednesday in Ashland at the St. Labre Indian School auditorium, 1000 Tongue River Road; in Miles City at the Elks Lodge, 619 Pleasant St.; and in Lame Deer at the Chief Little Wolf Capital Building tribal chambers, 600 S. Main Cheyenne Ave. Two meetings will be held at each location, at 2 and 6 p.m.

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

(13) Comments

  1. firefox
    Report Abuse
    firefox - November 15, 2012 4:32 am
    Billy Banger is misinformed. The mine starts just a few miles south of Ashland and runs to Fort Howes. It is no way close to Sheridan.
  2. billy banger
    Report Abuse
    billy banger - November 14, 2012 6:20 pm
    I have not doubts that this railroad along with the xl pipeline and the bakken play in montana will all occur but we can put some restrictions on them to make them pay for their impacts.
  3. billy banger
    Report Abuse
    billy banger - November 14, 2012 6:18 pm
    mtboy, actually the mine is south of ashland and quite a bit closer to Sheridan. It would be closer for people to live in MIles City than Billings and commute. The housing costs would be cheaper and there is also a walmart super store there also.
  4. mtboy
    Report Abuse
    mtboy - November 14, 2012 4:44 pm
    Sheridan to Ashland 131 miles or 101 miles about 2 hrs either way
    Billings to Ashland 125 miles about 2 hrs

    Yes, there is a two lane past the Tongue Reservoir shorter mileage but actually it is about the same amount of time.

    If I had to choose, I'd pick Billings.

    So Billy, billings wouldn't see any growth due to this coal mine? Yet we see growth via the Bakken Oil Boom that around 5 hrs away? What, no trickle down economic benefit in the coal industry???

    I would almost guarantee Billings would see economic benefits, maybe a couple more sales rep jobs housed in Billings, more money spent in billings via workers/owners/etc, possibly even more people living in billings who would rather drive to Ashland work their shift for that week and drive back, etc........ similar to what occurs in the Bakken, Stillwater Mine, Roundup Mine, Colstrip, etc.

    Sure some are going to probably go to Sheridan, but wouldn't you rather drive to a location with no sales tax, and more opportunities!
  5. chickadee
    Report Abuse
    chickadee - November 14, 2012 3:57 pm
    yes, yes, yes!
  6. billy banger
    Report Abuse
    billy banger - November 14, 2012 2:48 pm
    Up to you usual standard of stupidity. The mine is actually closer to Sheridan and they have a walmart there also. The state collecting money reduces my taxes here. The route to emergency services is not usable at each end of billings, when someone in the car is bleeding or having a heart attack. Those minutes could cost lives,
    It is nice to know those employees will throw money from the trains each time they pass thru. we will see little in economic increases here, but we will put up with the inconvience of wating for many trains.
  7. Our MT
    Report Abuse
    Our MT - November 14, 2012 2:21 pm
    Well banger, the railroaders with their new jobs, and the coal mine employees with their new $60,000 per year jobs spending money in Billings isn't a bad start. The State picking up several million per year in new taxes (which now don't have to come from us) might help too.

    Remember if the trains annoy you, use the overpass, or one of the underpasses, when crossing the tracks. We want you to be happy too.
  8. Our MT
    Report Abuse
    Our MT - November 14, 2012 2:13 pm
    PR Cats, glad you are happy. Stay that way. It's a nice change from your usual doom & gloom.
  9. back2montana
    Report Abuse
    back2montana - November 14, 2012 12:10 pm
    Power River Cats:
    I don't think "Our MT" is wrong. He, or she, hit it right on the head.

    I too am laughing out loud at the last election as well - maybe not for the same reason as you.
  10. Powder_River_Cats
    Report Abuse
    Powder_River_Cats - November 14, 2012 9:48 am
    Your wrong again "Our MT."

    By the way...... how'd that election go for you last week?! Yes, I'm laughing out loud!!
  11. billy banger
    Report Abuse
    billy banger - November 14, 2012 8:41 am
    How do trains going thru our city help our economy?
  12. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
    Report Abuse
    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - November 14, 2012 6:10 am
    Great for billings economy

  13. Our MT
    Report Abuse
    Our MT - November 13, 2012 11:50 pm
    This new found concern over selling to China is just another red herring from the anti-coal crowd. Montana wheat, cattle, timber and gold can be sold around the globe and nobody bats an eye. Yet the enviro extremists want us to believe we shouldn't sell coal to the Chinese because it's so precious the US must keep it for our own use. The enviros conveniently fail to mention they don't intend to let us use it regardless if the market is in China or Chicago.

    The rail & Otter Creek Mine would be the biggest economic boom in MT for decades to come. With some of the largest coal deposits in the world, Montana has 400 years of coal to provide. The USA imports vast amounts of everything from China yet we sell very little to China. This is an excellent means to correct some of that imbalance. It will provide Montana high paying jobs, over a billion dollars to the State, and have minimum impact to the Tongue River Valley. Approve it, and let them get started.

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