Chaffee County to split Tennessee Pass railroad attorney fees with Avon, Eagle County
The Chaffee County Commissioners Tuesday voted in favor of joining Avon and Eagle County in splitting the fees to retain attorneys Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell in an examination of the possible reactivation of the Tennessee Pass rail line.
The Tennessee Pass rail line runs through Chaffee County and Eagle County, has been dormant since the 1990s, but could see reactivation as a result of a newly-penned commercial agreement between the Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway Company and the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the line.
Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell partners will charge $450/hour, their associates $375. The law firm has represented Eagle County in its recent efforts to submit a comment in the Uinta Basin railroad environmental impact statement in Utah, to which Chaffee County intends to co-sign.
“Eagle County is actually footing the bill for that work,” Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis said Tuesday.
Chaffee County’s contribution to the firm’s legal efforts will be specific to the Tennessee Pass, although commissioners have been closely following the Uinta Basin line, as well. The proposed Uinta Basin Railway would be would be constructed over approximately 85 miles from the Uinta Basin near South Myton Bench to an existing Union Pacific Railroad Company rail line near Kyune, Utah.
Commissioner Keith Baker said attorney Alison Fultz at Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell identified a connection between the Tennessee Pass proposal and the Uinta Basin proposal.
“The term that Alison Fultz uses is that everything on the Colorado end, on the Tennessee Pass line end, really hinges on … ‘a likely and foreseeable consequence’ of that railroad,” Baker said Tuesday.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which oversees the nation’s railroad operations, issued a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Uinta Basin Railway on Oct. 30, and on Jan. 28, the comments period, which was set to expire, was extended until Feb. 12.
Baker said he was hopeful that in addition to Eagle County, the town of Avon, Chaffee County and the town of Buena Vista, the town of Salida will also sign onto the comments on the Uinta Basin Railway environmental impact statement.
Railroad traffic originating on the Uinta Basin railway could be conveyed on the Tennessee Pass line, “therefore, our position goes, it bears scrutiny as to what impact it might have on us,” Baker said Tuesday.
Uinta Basin aside, Davis said Chaffee County will want to use Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell’s services to identify the “unique issues that a local government is not prepared for,” she said.
Davis said those issues are best tackled by an outside legal team, “as evidenced by the fact that Eagle County, which has a relatively large in-house legal staff, is using outside council,” she said.
“Even if the line isn’t used for oil and gas purposes, the idea is that there could be issues that local governments along the Tennessee Pass line have with respect to potential impacts to existing businesses, tourism, railroad crossings, environmental impacts in general, and just to make sure that those interests are being addressed,” Davis said.
In addition to the Uinta Basin comments, Eagle and Chaffee Counties have also requested that the Surface Transportation Board conduct an environmental review of the impacts of reopening the Tennessee Pass line.
Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said despite the controversy surrounding the Tennessee Pass line, “there’s been universal agreement so far, from what I’ve heard, if anything is done, it has to be done right,” he said. “And that’s where we are right now with these two actions, we’re just trying to ensure everything is looked at properly.”