Forrest Mars, billionaire former chief executive of Mars Inc., has purchased about one-third of a controversial planned coal railroad that would run through his Montana property.
In a letter to Ed Gulick, chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation group that has been fighting the project for 30 years, Mars said he worked out a deal with the BNSF Railway Co. and Arch Coal Inc. to buy the permits for the Tongue River Railroad from south of Ashland almost to the Wyoming border.
The permits were purchased from project developer Mike Gustafson.
The railroad was originally planned to run for about 130 miles from just south of Miles City nearly to the Wyoming border, but it will be shorter because of Mars' purchase.
He wrote that it will now run from Miles City to the Otter Creek coal tracts near Ashland, but not from the Northern Cheyenne's border south of Ashland to the Montana-Wyoming line. He said in the letter that it will protect a large area from future development.
The railroad would have run through Mars' 140-square-mile Diamond Cross Ranch near Birney.
It is planned to open up a coal deposit of about a billion tons at Otter Creek, the rights to which are leased by Arch, and create a new route to transfer coal to plants in the Midwest.
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The resource council also said the coal will be shipped to Asia, with much of it going to China.
"This change has come about because the Otter Creek coal is exclusively to be exported to Asia and no longer for the long-touted Midwest markets as was the original justification," the group said in a press release.
Group members said they remain staunchly against the project and will continue to project the Tongue River Valley.
"This just shows that even Warren Buffett (BNSF owner) and Forrest Mars can make a bad investment," Mark Fix, former resource council chair and a rancher on the planned route, said in a press release. "We will not allow the Tongue River Railroad to be built because it will tear apart Montana ranchland and negatively impact agriculture in southeastern Montana"
Mars said in the letter that the remaining portions of the railroad have the potential to bring jobs and revenue to the state. He also told the group that he would no longer help them with any appeals regarding the railroad.
The Northern Plains Resource Council has two pending legal challenges against the coal tracts and railroad, including an appeal of the railroad development in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.