Friday, April 17, 2015

STB issues Tongue River Railroad Draft EIS

Written by  Carolina Worrell, Managing Editor
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STB issues Tongue River Railroad Draft EIS Billings Gazette
The Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) has issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for public review and comment of Tongue River Railroad Company’s (TRRC) proposed construction and operation of an approximately 42-mile new common carrier rail line between Colstrip, Mont., and the state’s Ashland/Otter Creek areas, STB announced on April 17, 2015.

If approved, TRRC’s rail line operator, BNSF, would be required to provide service to any shipper upon reasonable request. According to TRRC, the principal purpose of the proposed project is to transport low sulfur, subbituminous coal from mine sites in Rosebud and Powder River counties. TRRC added that the proposed rail line would provide the only rail service available to this resource and to other considerable coal resources in the Ashland area.

The Draft EIS, entitled Tongue River Railroad Company, Inc.—Rail Construction and Operation—in Custer, Powder River and Rosebud Counties, Docket No. FD 301856, was issued by the OEA as part of the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act and analyzes the potential environmental impacts that might occur if TRRC were to construct and operate the proposed rail line, and alternatives to TRRC’s proposal, including a “no-action” alternative.

OEA worked alongside the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service; and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, representing all Montana state agencies, in the preparation of the draft, STB said.

“In addition to analyzing the proposed action and alternatives, the Draft EIS sets forth OEA’s preliminary recommended mitigation and TRRC’s voluntary mitigation measures, and encourages mutually acceptable negotiated agreements to mitigate adverse environmental impacts, should the Board approve the proposal,” the agency said.

OEA and the cooperating agencies are providing a 60-day public comment period, which will begin upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance of a notice of availability in the Federal Register on April 24, 2015. Comments on the Draft EIS must be e-filed or postmarked by June 23, 2015. Instructions on how to submit comments to the Draft EIS, and a list of the dates, times, and locations of forthcoming public meetings can be found via the following fact sheet: http://www.stb.dot.gov/__85256593004F576F.nsf/0/5AB8791080B3A1D685257E2A005099E0?OpenDocument

After the close of the public comment period on the Draft EIS, OEA and the cooperating agencies will prepare a final EIS in response to comments received. The Board will then issue a final decision based on the entire public record, including the record on the transportation merits of the proposal, the Draft EIS, the final EIS, and all public and agency comments received, STB said. The Board will decide whether to approve the proposal, deny it, or approve it with mitigating conditions, including environmental conditions. The cooperating agencies also may issue separate decisions related to the proposal, the agency added.

The entire Draft EIS is available for viewing and downloading on the Board’s website at www.stb.dot.gov, or the Board-sponsored project website, www.tonguerivereis.com.

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