Submission Number: UBR-DEIS-00386 -- Oral Comment at Public Meeting 

Received: 12/1/2020 12:00:00 AM
Commenter: Darrell Fordham
Organization: Argyle Wilderness Preservation Alliance
State: 

Agency: STB
Initiative: Uinta Basin Railway EIS
Attachments: No Attachments
Submission Text
This is Darrel Fordham. Can you hear me okay?

[pause]

Okay.· My name is Darrell Fordham.· During the other four public comment meetings
that were previously held for the Uinta Basin Railroad Draft EIS, we've heard from several individuals who are in support of the railway, primarily Uinta Basin residents and Roosevelt and Vernal economic development, government officials.

While I understand and empathize with the desire to spur job creation and economic growth in the Uinta Basin, I feel that the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and other government officials who are in support of the project have lied to the public and deliberately misled them in order to garner public support for the project.

We have heard claims that the railway will take trucks off of the highway.· Most of the public has interpreted this to indicate that the railway would eliminate the tankers hauling crude oil on Highway 40 from the Basin to Salt Lake City.· This is categorically false.· Salt Lake City refineries do not have the capabilities to off load crude oil shipped via rail.· Nor do they have the space to construct one or the appetite to invest in one.

The fact is that the railway will result in an exponential increase in heavy truck traffic in local highways throughout the Basin, which will be a significant impact on local residents and county governments tasked with road maintenance and repair. Instead of alleviating the impacts of mineral extraction on the community, this project will instead place significant budgetary burdens on the city and county governments.

Who will pay for the required road maintenance, road improvements, new road construction and additional traffic lights and other safety measures that will be required to keep the public safe?· The Draft EIS mentions none of these impacts and makes no provisions for mitigation of them.· This is but one example of how the Coalition has misused federal mineral use money for planning this project, a project which will expand negative impacts on Uinta Basin communities instead of lessening them, a direct violation of the Mineral Lease Act.

The planning for this project and the Draft EIS also failed to address the need for transloading roadway to serve the railway.· The cost for transloading facilities for crude oil and for the public's goods are not included in the project planning, project cost estimates or environmental impact studies.

The Coalition and other government officials have repeatedly claimed the railway will be a
common-carrier railway, but they have no money and no plans for transloading facilities for commodities other than oil and supplies related directly to oil and gas production.· In fact, even the oil producers have not yet put any money towards planning, designing and building the required transloading facilities to serve their own interests of shipping crude oil, which is the obvious purpose of this railway.

It is ludicrous to suggest or believe that the oil companies are going to spend their own money to build facilities or lumber, agricultural products, steel or other goods that will allegedly be shipped on this railway.· The oil companies haven't spent a penny of their own money to plan and support the project.· So why should the public believe that they will spend the money on transloading facilities that do not reflect their own interests?

[pause]

The fact is that this project is so speculative that private investors have refused to invest their own money in the planning, permitting and preliminary engineering of the project.
These private investors instead relied on the public money that has been misappropriated by the Coalition and the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board that is, essentially, being gambled on the railway project.

The fact that private investors and private oil companies have, to date, refused to invest their own money speaks volumes about the precarious nature of this project and its questionable financial viability. Thank you.

[pause]

Okay.· I would just like to expand on my comments previously.· I would just like to ask, have any of the members of the public, specifically those of you who are in support of this project, asked yourself why the private equity firms and private oil companies haven't paid for the planning of this project?

Have any of you asked why $28 million of mineral lease monies have been risked and gambled on planning this project, with no guarantees that the project will be approved or that it will actually pay off to construct, operate and maintain it, especially during times when crude oils are low? Why haven't you asked these questions? I have, over and over and over for the past 20 months. My questions have been ignored and deflected and answered with half-truths and with redacted documents with all pertinent financial information blotted out. This should make every member of the public, as well as the Surface Transportation Board, question the approval of this project, especially with the identified and yet to be discovered environmental and socioeconomic and other impacts.

I strongly urge the Surface Transportation Board to choose the No-Action Alternative.· And if for no other reason than that the Coalition has not proven to the public that the proposed railway is economically feasible or viable.

Until the Coalition provides verifiable proof to the public and comes out of the shadows and out from behind their closed doors, this project should either be suspended or the No-Action Alternative be selected.

The Surface Transportation Board's role in this entire process is to protect not only the environment, but also the public.· Everyone should be asking how goods, including oil, are going to be transloaded on and off this proposed railway. 

The economic development officials from Roosevelt and Vernal are on the record stating that the railway will bring in future business and new industries to the Uinta Basin.· What industries?· Which companies?· There should be volumes of information about companies who've expressed interest in moving into the Basin, who are not currently there but for a lack of rail.

Who are these companies?· How soon after the railway is built will they be moving in?· Have they committed to spending tens of millions of their own dollars to build the transloading facilities that will be required in order for them to utilize the railway?

Where are those commitments?· They should be in writing and should be publicly available.· This is a huge project with a -- with -- accompanied by irreparable impacts that is proposed and planned and studied with a Field-of-Dreams mentality that somehow --

[pause]

-- "if we build it, they will come." This is not some Hollywood movie. This doesn't only affect a single farm or a single corn field somewhere in the middle of Iowa. The Surface Transportation Board should also be requiring the Coalition to provide such information and documentation to approve such a massive project like this with its accompanying myriad of environmental, socioeconomic and other impacts, most of which cannot and will not be completely and effectively mitigated, is highly irresponsible at this juncture. And I'll suspend my questions there.

[pause]

Yeah.· To continue my comments, Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners, the private equity firm that is allegedly going to finance the construction of this railway has not signed a contract with the committed funds in place to construct the railway.

The current contract with the Coalition allows them up to five years to put the financing in
place with an option for an additional five-year extension beyond that.· If this railway is so needed for the oil industry and the other Field-of-Dreams industries that will purportedly come after it is built, then where is their money?· Why isn't there a secured contract backed by secured financing in place for this project?· Why hasn't Drexel Hamilton paid for the planning already and gambled their own $27.9 million on the project instead of the Coalition gambling the public's money on it?

The fact is that if Drexel Hamilton decides not to proceed with the project, the $29.9 million that the Coalition has spent planning the project will be wasted.

Nearly $28 million of public money, money that could have and should have been used to pay for utility projects, police and fire and municipal buildings, rural health facilities, et cetera, throughout all of rural Utah.· Do those of you who live in rural Utah understand that?· I don't think that you do.· Because the Coalition has gone to great lengths to assure the public that this money will not be wasted and lost if the construction on this project does not commence.

Come on people.· Follow the money.· No one should be given approval to construct a project of this size and scope without first having guaranteed funds in place, not only to cover the cost of construction, but, also, to absolutely guarantee that all of the required mitigation measures are implemented in their entirety.

Should the Surface Transportation Board approve any alternative other than the No-Action
Alternative, it should and must be contingent upon the Coalition verified financing for the project to include all mitigation costs.· And it should be stipulated that the monies required for mitigation be held in trust and be set aside prior to construction commencement.· So if construction commences and is then delayed or abandoned entirely, money exists to fully mitigate and remediate any and all associated impacts.

The Coalition itself does not have sufficient financial resources requisite to pay for the mitigation costs associated with a project of this scale.

In addition, it is likely that the public and private landowners would be faced with funding an extremely expensive legal battle in order to force the Coalition and/or Drexel Hamilton and its partners to pay for the mitigation and remediation that may be required.· For all of the public, specifically Uinta Basin residents --

[pause]

-- are you willing to foot the bill if construction commences and isn't completed due to unanticipated construction costs, low crude oil prices, changes in crude oil market
conditions, and lack of investor confidence, bankruptcy, recession, future pandemics or many other possible factors which could delay or suspend construction?· Are you willing to bear incredibly expensive tax increases to pay for mitigation of this project should the project investors and proponents declare bankruptcy and go belly-up before the project
is completed and generating revenue?

Have you thought about the possibilities? Who is going to protect the public and the environment? Who has the millions of dollars to fight the project proponents in court should they suspend or abandon the project after it is commenced?· Are you personally willing to foot that bill --

[pause]

-- I'm not.

[pause]

Yeah. Just a couple of final sentences. I'm just asking, you know, is the Ute Indian tribe prepared to foot the bill since they will be equity partners in the construction and operation of the railway? Both our federal, state and local governments exist to protect the public and the environment from such possibilities. Yet, I can find nothing in any of the project planning permitting procedures or Draft EIS to address and accommodate such possibilities. Why not?· Thank you.