Federal regulators release environmental draft study on coal railroad proposed in Montana

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LIVINGSTON, Montana — Federal regulators have released a draft study of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Tongue River Railroad and found it could have minor to highly adverse impacts on transportation, climate change, noise, water and historical resources.

The $403 million rail line would transport low-sulfur coal from the proposed Otter Creek Mine and other possible mines in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border to U.S. markets and to West Coast ports, where it could be shipped overseas.

If approved, the project could lead to the use of 90 miles of private property in Montana for construction. The Surface Transportation Board has had some version of the Tongue River Railroad project before it since 1979.

The railroad has faced years of opposition from southeastern Montana ranchers and tribal members. They recently were joined by a growing coalition of down-rail cities and towns which have written to the Surface Transportation Board expressing concerns about increased coal train traffic.

Written concerns have been submitted by towns such as Livingston, Whitefish and Missoula in addition to Sandpoint, Idaho, Hood River, Oregon, and Seattle, according to a statement from the Northern Plains Resource Council, which opposes the project.

"For more than 30 years, ranchers and farmers have had to worry about our private property suffering condemnation from the Tongue River Railroad. It's time to put it to bed," said Kelly Radue, a Custer County livestock producer whose ranch could be condemned by the Tongue River Railroad, according to the statement.

The proposed rail line would be co-owned by BNSF Railway Co. of Fort Worth, Texas; Arch Coal Inc. of St. Louis; and candy-industry billionaire Forrest Mars Jr.

Lena Kent, spokeswoman for the railway, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The draft report by the board's Office of Environmental Analysis examined the potential environmental impacts of 11 alternatives. Ten are different rail alignments that could be built and one alternative considers the effects of not building the railroad.

Federal regulators have has not yet identified a preferred alternative but will do so in the final environmental analysis, the board said in documents released Friday. The line could run from Ashland to Colstrip.

The Tongue River Railroad Co.'s preferred route is the Colstrip Alternative, documents said.

The alternatives being considered are located in Custer, Rosebud, Powder River and Big Horn counties.

Dennis Watson, a spokesman for the board, said it wanted to accommodate the intense interest in the project and additional time would be given so people have a chance to express their views.


Federal Railroad Analysis: http://tinyurl.com/kk5et5h

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