Avon to pay half the legal fees on possible challenge of Tennessee Pass railroad reactivation
Town fearing big impacts from potential freight service
Elected officials in Avon, sensing the impacts the proposed Tennessee Pass railroad reactivation will bring, agreed to the town paying half of the legal fees for examining or challenging the railroad operations.
The Colorado Midland Pacific Railway Company has entered into a commercial agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for the majority of the Tennessee Pass rail line, which travels through Eagle County and the town of Avon. The Colorado Midland Pacific Railway Company intends to reactivate the long dormant rail line, and has filed for common carrier authority with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. The agreement area runs between stations near the towns of Canon City in Fremont County and Eagle in Eagle County.
“CMP wants to explore and develop commuter and passenger rail, and local freight, within that 160-mile corridor,” said Sara Cassidy, community liaison for Colorado Midland Pacific Railway Company.
“CMP has no plan, no intention, and no means to operate oil trains across the Tennessee Pass line,” Cassidy added.
Regardless, the railroad reactivation will have “significant repercussions for the town, the community, and really the state,” said Avon Town Attorney Paul Wisor, prompting the town to seek legal services in an effort to examine and possibly challenge the reactivation.
“We are fortunate in that the firm Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell is a firm based out of Denver who has established a reputation as one of if not the best rail firms in the country,” Wisor said. “Fortunately they were willing to take our call and were interested in helping out with this project and have agreed to represent the town.”
$450 per hour
After talking with the firm, it became apparent that the effort to challenge the rail line is not only going to be a town of Avon effort, and “other communities are interested in obtaining Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell’s services, as well, most notably Eagle County,” Wisor said. “I think Eagle County and the town’s will be widely aligned throughout this process.”
Eagle County and the town of Avon have agreed to split the fees, for the time being. Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell partners will charge $450/hour, their associates $375, which is “in line with the fees other special council,” Wisor said.
“I think it’s really outstanding that we get to work with Alison Fultz, she’s the leader in the field,” said Avon Town Councilmember Tamra Underwood, who is also an attorney.
The town of Avon expects the fee payments will be assisted by other partners along the way, as a local coalition concerned about railroad operations continues to grow.
“I envision it not just being local governments who are going to be involved in this coalition, that there will be some nonprofits, other organizations of greater capacity to foot this bill,” Wisor said. “Some of these organizations are going to want to have a voice in this conversation and be able to weigh in, and we have the advantage of having the preeminent speakerphone, for lack of a better term, in front of us, and so I think that those entities are going to want to pay the premium to have the ability to have KKR provide them advice and speak on their behalf, as well.
‘Much bigger issues’ ahead
Avon Town Manager Eric Heil, who is also an attorney, said it’s important that Avon gets started right away with attorney services.
“I think there’s going to be much bigger issues of investment or political participation to have influence over this, because of the potential impact of freight,” Heil said.
Avon resident Michael Cacioppo said before the rail line ceased operation in the mid-1990s, he had considered buying a house in Edwards near the tracks.
“Before I made my decision I decided to go out there at about four in the afternoon and stand in the house with all the doors and window closed and, literally, when the train came by, the house shook,” Cacioppo said. “That’s going to be a problem for people all the way up and down that line.”
Avon councilmembers expressed concern over the new development that has happened near the railroad in recent years, specifically in the area near the Westin known as the Riverfront. Councilmember Amy Phillips said the Eagle Bend neighborhood, where she lives, is also impacted.
“I have lived in my home since before the rail lines ceased to work, they actually were not that miserable to me,” Phillips said. “Our neighborhood and the Westin are probably the neighborhoods most impacted by what happens here in Avon.”
Councilmember Scott Prince, while in agreement with the decision to retain services, said the council needs regular updates regarding costs.
“I think once we get into it, and get a better idea of where it’s going, we would have that update,” Heil said. “And if there’s a need to re-discuss how we share those fees, as others get on board, I could foresee that happening also.”
Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said she is part of a currently undefined working group focused on the Tennessee Pass railroad, and there will be many community meetings to come.
“It’s just the beginning of that conversation,” she said.