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Conservationists and elected officials in neighboring Grand County, where the Colorado River originates, say Eagle County will likely “never get what you want from a lawsuit” trying to stop oil trains from Utah from thundering alongside the endangered river, but they insist significant safeguards be put in place for when those oil trains do start rolling.
That’s according to new reporting in the Granby Sky-Hi News on a recent Grand County commissioners meeting with representatives from Trout Unlimited.
“Picture 10 2-mile long trains with heated railcars filled with this waxy crude which hardens to the consistency of candle wax when exposed to air, traveling along two of the most threatened rivers in the country, the Colorado and the Fraser,” Mark Eddy of the Colorado River Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited said. “Picture what those canyons and rivers would look like if even one of the tanker cars split open and spilled its contents into Byers Canyon right down the road there. The devastation to the river ecosystem would be catastrophic.”
Eagle County has those same concerns about the trains coming out of Glenwood Canyon and heading northeast along the Colorado River at Dotsero through the northwestern corner of the county, but also cite issues such as exacerbating climate change and inviting wildfires. But unlike Grand County, where the trains would travel next on their way to Denver, Eagle County and a slew of environmental groups have sued to challenge federal approval of the Utah trains.
“I put gas in my vehicle, I bet everyone here does … we all depend on this infrastructure,” said Grand County Commissioner Rich Cimino, who unsuccessfully ran for state senate last year. “The trains go through here, that’s why we grew, that’s why we happened … what’s the difference between God and a railroad? God doesn’t think He’s a railroad; railroads think they’re God.”
Trout Unlimited praised Grand County drafting and sending a letter of concern to state and federal officials and agreed they should not join Eagle County’s lawsuit “since it won’t prevent the railway,” according to the Sky-Hi News.
But they urged the commissioners to impose conditions on the oil trains that will result from Utah’s construction of the 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway connecting the oil fields of northeast Utah with the Union Pacific’s main rail network.
Those conditions should be a spill recovery plan in conjunction with state officials with an experienced contractor on retainer, locally stationed first responder equipment with toxic clean-up training for crews, and an escrow account flush with funds to pay for clean-up expenses.
As previously reported by RealVail.com, there’s still a chance U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack could overturn U.S. Forest Service approval of the Uinta Basin project where it traverses federal land in Utah. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is pushing hard for that result.
Eagle County officials, in their lawsuit, also expressed concerns that the approval of added oil train traffic on the active Moffat line would put added pressure on officials to reopen the dormant Tennessee Pass line that moves southeast through Eagle County from Dotsero, along the Eagle River, over Tennessee Pass and down the Arkansas River to Pueblo.
Reopening that route would put all of those added oil trains in the proximity of pristine wilderness areas and the newly designated Camp Hale National Monument, where Utah and Colorado members of competing Ute tribes are divided over the Uinta Basin project.
All of this is being debated and contested in court at a time with the national spotlight is firmly on the nation’s major rail carriers, which have slashed staff dramatically in recent years while simultaneously reaping record profits.
A recent derailment and chemical spill in Ohio has many communities questioning rail safety and the transportation of volatile and in some cases deadly chemicals by rail through populated and sensitive areas of the country. In the desert Southwest, railroads tend to be built in river basins that are experiencing record drought.