The Billings Outpost

Tongue River Railroad to reapply for permit

DEB COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

Tongue River Railroad Co. will have to backtrack a bit on plans to build a new rail line to haul coal from Otter Creek.

The federal Surface Transportation Board has directed the company to reapply for a permit because the project has changed, and court rulings found the review of possible environmental impacts wasn’t complete.

Tongue River rancher Mark Fix says it gives his family a reprieve, since their property was targeted for the project - without their consent.

“The way it sat before all of this happened is basically, they could have come out and condemned me at any time,” he said.

The Tongue River Railroad was first proposed in 1980 when coal mining was expected in the Ashland area. The proposed route was changed to serve shipping of Wyoming coal – and, more recently, coal from Otter Creek – eventually reaching ports in Oregon and Washington for shipment to Asia.

The Otter Creek tracts are leased by the state, thus bringing in new revenue. Fix, who chairs the Northern Plains Resource Council’s Tongue River Task Force, says he hopes discussion of the project will broaden to include how it could negatively affect revenues in agriculture and tourism.

“Obviously, we hope that it will never get built. We think that it’s more important to leave that coal where it is.”

The Surface Transportation Board’s decision is online at


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