Tongue River railroad poses problems for Mont. ranchers | TSLN.com

Tongue River railroad poses problems for Mont. ranchers

Karoline Rose
for Tri-State Livestock News

Many ranchers believe the Tongue River Railroad has the potential to condemn thousands of acres of farm and rangeland in eastern Montana which in turn threatens their business and livelihood. Additionally, with the global demand for products such as beef increasing, ranchers and farmers cannot afford to sacrifice that land to the coal industry.

Clint McRae a fourth generation rancher from Forsyth, Mont., said, "This railroad is as wrong as it can be." The owner of the Rocker 6 Cattle Company has been established on Rosebud Creek ever sense his great-grandfather settled into the valley south of Colstrip, Mont. For over 30 years they have been fighting for private property rights. The original route changed shortly after the public meetings were held in four Montana towns. Now the proposed railroad would cut the McRae ranch right in half and span over nine miles on McRae's property.

The Northern Plain Resource Council is actively working for farmers and ranchers to put a stop to this proposed railroad. While the positive economic impacts are evident, the negative repercussions landowners face will prove to be more severe. The concerns seem to be centered around five main factors: the effects on wildlife habitat, flooding and Montana rivers, the effect on the public, impact on property values along with an increase in noise and traffic.

The Tongue River Valley is rich in wildlife habitat and home to some of the state's most thriving elk, mule deer, and upland bird populations. Building a track through this land would not only be detrimental to agriculture but it would also jeopardize something Montana is very proud of – its wildlife.

According to McRae, "This railroad would add labor every year to our ranch." Everyday workings would be affected, from branding to shipping, and ranchers will not be compensated for these extra expenses.

The Tongue River Railroad will also affect riparian areas, as it has the potential to increase flooding. This is likely to be most severe near Miles City, where ice jams are already a concern.

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Another concern is that of public convenience and necessity, the proposed railroad is not for the public's "convenience and necessity" which is what is required in order for a company to get the power of eminent domain. The proposed railroad would serve only one coal company and would not be used for public transportation.

The impacts on property values has been brought up as a concern as well. This project has the potential to devalue ag property as it would possibly cut fields in half and limit efficiency. Landowners are concerned about the railroad limiting or affecting access to pieces or parts of their land. Many are afraid the railroad will cause fires, spread weeds, devalue property (especially river-front property), make ranching and farming more difficult and expensive, split ranch land in half and separate fields from the river, and will shift the liability of train crossings to the landowner. Burlington railroad required liability insurance to have crossings on the tracks so while McRae's hunters hunt free of charge, he will be held liable if they are injured while crossing.

It is speculated that the increased traffic will cause an increase in taxes. Along with an increase of taxes, also comes an increase of risk. New overpasses will need to be built, more crossings and more ports for shipping. Grain producers are concerned that they won't be able to get their product to market as efficiently, lowering their profit margin.

"They [Tongue River Railroad Company] aren't listening to our concerns, that's the biggest issue," said McRae. "We are not the least interested in federal land condemned for a private for-profit company that exports coal to China." According to McRae, "Arch coal simply won't state where the coal is headed, but we speculate China."

Tongue River Railroad Company did not respond for a comment.