DOE's planning efforts regarding the location and operations of a railroad to Yucca Mountain are still at a very preliminary stage. Much of DOE's effort is currently focused on the site characterization efforts for the Yucca Mountain repository itself. Consequently, DOE has not completed the conceptual design work on the Carlin and Jean routes or a thorough and comprehensive comparative evaluation to determine a preferred route. The delay offers Eureka County an opportunity to step up its own involvement in the rail access planning process and advance issues that may be appropriate to the stage of the study process or that, regardless of forum, represent local understanding and concern for the potential effects of a high-level nuclear waste railroad through Eureka County. This chapter identifies issues for Eureka County's use in this process.
Corridor Identification Issues
DOE's Preliminary Rail Access Study first reviewed existing and now-abandoned railroad routes. Several of these were included as route options, although the identified route options as configured for DOE's purposes deviated considerably from the historical railroad routes to avoid currently-developed or environmentally sensitive areas.
Second, in scanning the study area for other options, areas of obvious land use incompatibility were eliminated and areas of favorable topography were included. In the case of options identified by this process, the resulting terrain within the corridor is, according to DOE, often much more rugged than that of corridors developed or considered for a railroad in the past. Although they are feasible from an engineering viewpoint, routes over rugged terrain would generally require large amounts of earthwork and may result in a relatively higher level of environmental impact and operational difficulty. At this preliminary stage, the design standards used to assess engineering feasibility were a two percent desirable maximum and a 2.5 percent absolute maximum limiting grade and a maximum eight degrees (minimum 717 feet radius) limiting horizontal curvature. These standards are consistent with standard railroad engineering practices and DOE orders.
The potential rail route options so identified were further evaluated for land use compatibility, which was defined as the presence or absence of a land use conflict and the potential for abatement of any existing conflict. Land use conflict was identified in terms of existing and projected private development activities, as well as existing and potential Federal and/or State agency land-use designations.
Route options also were evaluated in terms of their access to regional carriers. Access to more than one regional carrier was preferred because of uncertainty surrounding the details of transportation operations for the rail shipment of waste to Yucca Mountain. Other criteria used in the evaluation included maximizing the use of federal lands and avoiding lands withdrawn from public use by federal actions. Given the location of Yucca Mountain relative to surrounding regional rail access points, the second of these criteria amounts to avoiding crossing the Nevada Test Site and Nellis Air Force Range, located in central Nye County.
The three routes that emerged from the process were characterized by DOE has having few potential land use conflicts and access to regional carriers. However, recommendation of the three routes for conceptual design is a preliminary decision and does not preclude the identification of additional viable routes or re-consideration of current options should new information become available that affects their potential feasibility, according to DOE (U.S. Department of Energy 1990, p. 3).
Conceptual Design Issues
If and when the Carlin route option undergoes conceptual design study, DOE and its technical contractor probably will use the same approach taken in studying the Caliente route option during fiscal year 1990. The scope of the Caliente study was to develop the conceptual design, provide a preliminary environmental analysis, and prepare a cost estimate, using a set of design criteria also developed at the outset of the study. The process would involve communities, according to DOE. This means meetings with local officials along the potential route to get their initial input to the route selection process. It also means including the recommendations made by local communities in route selection activities (De Leuw Cather 1991, p. 103), something that occurred during consideration of the Caliente route option.
In contrast to corridor selection, cost was a direct consideration in conceptual design. Enough engineering design was conducted to make an estimate of construction cost of the numerous within-corridor alternatives. The recommended within-corridor alignment was selected to minimize construction costs, avoid operational problems, and avoid interference with environmentally sensitive areas, archaeological sites, private property, and the Nevada Test Site and Nellis Air Force Range. Since construction costs generally increase with length of track and the amounts of excavation and embankment required, and operational difficulties generally increase with increasing grade, vertical curvature, and horizontal curvature, the criteria place a premium on finding a straighter route through more gentle terrain, without violating environmental and other land use constraints.
Construction and operating scenarios were hypothesized in order to estimate costs. A range of estimated construction costs was calculated, depending on construction assumptions and signalling options. A range of operating cost estimates also were calculated, depending on the ownership and operating structure. Although it has cost and other implications, a "shared use" version of the route was not investigated in the conceptual design report. Shared-use refers to allowing public use of the rail route. The alternative, "restricted use," means the rail route would be used for nuclear waste shipments only.
The following sections describe issues considered within the various stages of DOE's conceptual design study process.
During conceptual design, the focus is on developing alternative route alignments within an identified corridor. Alignments are built up from specific route segments. Route segments, in turn, are identified within a study area based on the stated engineering requirement of not exceeding a 2.5 percent grade and an 8.0 degree maximum curvature (minimum curve radius of about 720 feet), plus broad land use/environmental restrictions. Potentially usable segments are those traversing an area without encountering a mountain range and mountain passes allowing a line with a 2.5 percent or lower grade to be drawn in both directions. National forest lands are avoided during this process because national forests are typically on land too steep for railroad construction, as shown on USGS maps, and railroad right-of- way would likely be a controversial land use within a national forest.
Segment identification results in a "spider web" of segments within the corridor. Engineering statistics are compiled for each segment: length, rise/fall, and number of bridges (stream crossings). Segments are then linked together into possible routes. Figure 3 summarizes the engineering feasibility attributes used to characterize alignment alternatives identified by this process.
Source: De Leuw Cather, p. 2-3, 29.
At this stage, the analysis relies on 1:250,000 scale contour maps. Because of the numerous possible combinations of segments, and the preliminary nature of the map-based information available on them, the route segments are screened for potential land use, environmental, biological, and geotechnical constraints. Segments that are feasible from an engineering point of view are overlaid with maps of potentially restricted areas. Restricted areas are graded in terms of their potential to deny access to a particular right-of-way. Potential alignments are defined by choosing segments that minimize conflict with restricted areas or, where conflict is unavoidable, intrude on areas of mildest restriction. The screening process is used as a guide to further route development. Figure 4 summarizes the restrictions on potential right-of-way acquisition used to eliminate alignment alternatives at this stage of conceptual design.
VRM Visual Resources Management
Source: De Lew Cather 1991, p. 2-4, 22.
After defining potential alignments, DOE conducts a basic engineering analysis to develop the information needed to choose a within-corridor alignment. Engineering analysis leads to the identification of an alignment "concept," a proposed alignment with enough hypothetical detail to allow development of useful cost estimates. A concept consists of a layout (plan and profile of the trackage), plus the identification of geotechnical constraints, drainage and structural requirements, signals and communications facilities, and other fixed facilities required for the construction and operation of a railroad.
At this stage, work is done on more detailed maps (1:24,000 scale 7.5 minute USGS quads), with field reconnaissance trips taken to inspect the alignments. Land use and environmental data also are developed from published or other secondary sources at the 1:24,000 scale and are used interactively to develop and modify the route segments. Cultural resource information for a one-mile wide corridor around route segments is assembled from existing literature and from major regional archival repositories. Field trips are taken by civil, geotechnical, and drainage engineers. Additional field inspection is conducted by planners evaluating impacts of the routes on cultural and natural resources.
The length of the railroad is the most important factor in determining costs of constructing and operating a railroad. Length generally translates into construction, or capital, costs through the accumulation of design, engineering, and construction effort. Length generally translates into operation and maintenance (O&M) costs through the time on the job of personnel and costs of track and stock maintenance.
Besides design, engineering, and construction, capital costs also include the initial expenditures to buy rolling stock and other durable equipment. At the conceptual design stage, capital cost estimates depend on numerous assumptions: How much earthwork? How many bridges? What type of ties? What types of signals? How much and what kind of rolling stock, maintenance equipment, building facilities, and emergency equipment? O&M costs cover the operation and upkeep of the railroad. Key items are personnel, maintenance of way, and maintenance of rolling stock.
Estimated costs for the Carlin rail route option developed in the Preliminary Rail Access Study were $659 to $661 million in capital costs and $2.5 to $2.9 million in annual O&M costs in 1988 dollars. Restated in 1990 dollars, the amounts are equivalent to $759 to $761 million in capital costs and $2.9 to $3.3 million in annual O&M costs. Note that comparable estimated costs for the Caliente rail route option presented in the Conceptual Design Report were $1.0 to $1.3 billion in capital costs and $4.4 to $6.9 million in annual O&M costs in 1990 dollars. Since the two route options are similar in length, the difference in costs is probably due to the more specific estimating methodology used at the conceptual design stage.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Issues
The site characterization program now underway at Yucca Mountain is meant to determine whether the site is suitable for a high-level nuclear waste repository. Should the site be found suitable, DOE will be required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to support its decision to select Yucca Mountain for a repository by preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS).
According to DOE, the issue of transportation — including the selection of a preferred rail access alignment concept — will be given a full and open treatment in that EIS, along with the rest of the proposed repository project (De Leuw Cather 1991). The EIS process is defined in the statute, regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and federal agency procedures, in this case the procedures of DOE. The process includes considerable flexibility and opportunity for outside intervention.
Because final decisions have not yet been made, DOE may be influenced in a number of ways: to address other alternatives, to address additional issues, or to address issues in a particular way. To influence EIS preparation, Eureka County should plan to conduct its own analysis of the proposed action. Then the results may be communicated through direct consultation with DOE, in public meetings, and through "scoping." This report, in effect, is a first step in just that sort of analysis.
The regulations governing EIS preparation define scoping as the means for determining the issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action. The scope consists of the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be considered in the EIS. The purpose of scoping is to endeavor to reach agreement among all interested parties on the issues that should be addressed in the EIS. Because of its statutory standing as a potentially affected unit of local government, Eureka County is assured of a role in the scoping process.
Although any reasonable issue may be advanced for consideration by an EIS, NEPA and the regulations identify the range of effects that should at least be reviewed for their potential impact as the EIS process unfolds. Effects include ecological (such as effects on natural resources and ecosystems), aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social, and health. Figure 5 is a listing of eight categories of biophysical and socioeconomic attributes covering the human environment at a generalized level.
The above describes elements which may be considered, and would be considered if concern surfaces during the scoping process. However, certain potential impact topics are subject to requirements specified in statute, regulation, or executive order and must be considered in all EIS's if the features are present in the environment. They are listed along with the relevant authority in Figure 6.
Issues of Particular Local Concern
In addition to the environmental and design issues described above, Eureka County will have many particular concerns about the alignment and operation of a nuclear waste transportation route bisecting the county. This section introduces a discussion of some of the major issues of concern to the county and its residents. These issues include both fundamental concerns about the design and implementation of the national waste management program and the Yucca Mountain project, as well as specific concerns about the physical and socioeconomic conditions along the Carlin route. These issues point to potential direct and indirect effects of specific alignment alternatives that would have a long-term impact and may alter patterns of activity deeply woven into the social and economic fabric of Eureka County.
Eureka County's Relationship with DOE. Among the basic concerns about the OCRWM program and the Yucca Mountain project will be the evolution and outcomes of the relationship between Eureka County and the U.S. Department of Energy. Although it is not possible to describe in detail the precise relationship or define the specific issues that will arise over the course of DOE's transportation planning, it is important for the county to understand at each step in the process of project development the exact nature of the decision process, and the implications to Eureka County. For example, it is important for the county to distinguish between any communications by DOE's contractors and official DOE policy or enforceable DOE commitments. This distinction will become increasingly important as decisions are made concerning specific rail alignment, ownership of the route, operation and maintenance of the line, and liability for all types of risks (radioactive and other) associated with the transportation of nuclear wastes and other materials on the route.
Overall Effect of the Route on Eureka County. The specific discussions of environmental, socioeconomic and design issues related to the Carlin route often might cloud a more basic, but less definable impact on the county. The existence of a highly visible and secured rail line bisecting Eureka County, carrying extremely noxious material, and potentially a target for protest or sabotage will have many unforeseeable but potentially severe impacts on the county and its citizens. For example, in addition to the specific costs and benefits to economic activity and land use in the county (which are described below), there is a possibility that the route will change the fabric of Eureka County in ways that cannot be specifically predicted with confidence. The possibility of such fundamental effects should be considered by the county in connection with any discussion of the specific effects, such as those described below.
One example of a potentially fundamental effect is on agriculture. Agriculture is not just Eureka County's second largest industry. It also is an embodiment of a tradition and valued way of life. As a result, Eureka County is firm in its commitment to the protection and encouragement of agriculture and its associated lifestyle. Therefore, the potential to disturb this aspect of life in parts of Eureka County should be considered as a primary issue in any study of the Carlin route.
Construction and Operation of the Railroad
Rail access development would have direct effects on the local economy, largely associated with the construction phase of the railroad project. These effects (temporary local hiring and local purchasing and fiscal, facility, and service demands due to temporary populations) also should be anticipated and considered by Eureka County as part of its input to DOE on the rail access development program. However, the duration of these impacts should be relatively short, although some may endure beyond the construction phase. Consequently, their potential for a lasting impact on Eureka County should be limited.
Construction and operation of a railroad on the Carlin route would have direct economic effects in Eureka County during construction (short term) and operations (long term). Rail line construction generally progresses along the corridor, affecting different communities as it proceeds. The communities serve as staging points for crews and some support functions for job sites long the corridor. As it proceeds, construction generates incomes for local hires, local businesses selling to and local contractors engaged by the project, and local businesses selling to project employees.
In Eureka County, rail construction may be seasonal. During operations, the number of local jobs generated and volume of spending at local businesses typically drops, but the effects are long-term and year-round.
Other economic effects of development of the Carlin rail route option may be related to economic development potentials.
Water. Land in Eureka County south of the Humboldt River lies in the Central Nevada Basin and Range physiographic area, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Services. Water is scarce in the region, and available surface and ground water is used for irrigation. With the exception of the Humboldt River, streams are generally small and intermittent and depend on sources in the higher mountains. Groundwater is available in valley fills, but it has been or is increasingly utilized for crop irrigation or, where other factors permit, residential or other development. A few small reservoirs in southern Eureka County are used for irrigation or recreation.
Floodplains. Floodplains along the course of the Humboldt River in Eureka County are a significant environmental area. Depending on its precise alignment, the Carlin route would pass through or next to many miles designated as Zone A (100-year floodplain, without base flood elevations or flood hazard factors determined) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA 1990). Most of these areas are adjacent to the Humboldt River (where the UP/SP paired trackage travels through Zone A along its entire length through Eureka County), and adjacent to Pine Creek, Denay Creek and their tributaries. Recognizing the special characteristics of floodplains, including constraints on land use and other development, the 1973 Eureka County General Plan recommended reserving the Humboldt River floodplain as permanent open space available for agricultural or recreational pursuits.
Wetlands. Concerns over wetlands focus on the plant and animal communities supported within them. The loss of wetland areas also may impact the quality and quantity of surface and ground water. The jurisdictional interest in wetlands is spread among four federal agencies. Each defines a wetland in terms of water, vegetation, and soil characteristics, but the definitions differ. Therefore, information identifying wetlands may be inadequate or conflicting. Nevertheless, wetlands are subject to protection (as defined by each agency) from impacts of construction or other development-related activities.
Wildlife. Eureka County supports many different species of wildlife. Many common species are found throughout the entire county, and some species are limited to certain areas by physical characteristics such as availability of water, temperature, and humidity. Figure 7 presents the most common species found in the Eureka County. The most commonly hunted species in Eureka County are mule deer, antelope, sage grouse, and rabbits. The deer, grouse and rabbit hunts attract hunters from outside the county and state. Two species commonly found in the county have protected status: the bald eagle (endangered) and the lahontan cutthroat trout (threatened). Any assessment of corridors and alignments would have to take into account effects on Eureka County wildlife, including hunted and protected species.
Crop Production. The potential effects on the land use and economy of Eureka County are among the most critical of the local concerns about the Carlin route. The preliminary alignment of the route, particularly in the Pine Valley segment between Palisade and the Denay Valley, could substantially disrupt existing farming and ranching activities. Figure 8 shows the areas of private land in Eureka County, with the Carlin route superimposed, together with the approximate location of ranches along the route. As shown, the greatest concentration of patented land is in the north half of the valley, where railroad patents account for significant areas of private land in the "checkerboard" pattern surrounding the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. On the Carlin route for several miles south of the Humboldt River, most private land is devoted to hay and other crop production in a number of ranches along SH 278. The route could interfere significantly with agricultural production in this area, separating ranch buildings from fields.
A potential offsetting benefit to ranching operations could be the use of rail lines to receive materials into and ship products from the area. However, this benefit is likely to be minimal, given the primarily local use of agricultural products and the low ratios of value to volume and value to weight (and correspondingly high proportion of transportation cost to price) of those products.
Grazing. In addition to crop production, the route would substantially disrupt grazing patterns along its entire length. Figure 9 shows the location of grazing allotment areas along the Carlin route. In the northern part of the route (in the area administered by the Elko District office of the BLM), grazing allotments are exclusive to each permittee, with a sub-allotment defining the grazing extent; in the south (covered by the Battle Mountain BLM District), allotments are shared among permittees within each allotment area. The effect of bisecting allotment areas, particularly in the northern segment of the route, would interfere significantly with historic and efficient grazing practices.
An offsetting benefit could include providing local ranchers with less expensive transportation of materials and products. Compared with crop production, the value of beef is higher per pound, and therefore shipment of beef products by rail might constitute a substantial benefit to the county's ranchers. Figure 10 shows the location of ranches in the vicinity of the Carlin route.
Mining. As the largest contributor to economic activity in the county, mining impacts will be a particular concern in studying the effects of the Carlin route option. The active mines near the corridor include the Atlas Gold Bar Mine which employs about 200 persons, the Cortez Horse Canyon Mine which employs about 100 persons, and the Nevada Barth Iron Mine and Mill which employs 2 persons (Nevada Department of Industrial Relations 1993). In addition to active operations, there are numerous patented mining claims surrounding the route. For example, the Tonkin Springs Project — located just west of Tonkin Springs — recently closed. The Eureka County Clerk shows a total of about 25 patented mining claims in the vicinity of the Carlin route (Planning Information Corporation 1993).
The impact of the route on mining activities could include interference with flow of activities at the mine sites, as well as the potential discouragement of development of properties close to the route. One issue that should be addressed by the DOE are the relative legal positions of the patent owners' subsurface mineral rights vis a vis the right-of-way surface rights, particularly if mine development increases after construction of a rail route.
Again, the potential benefits of a shared use rail line could include lower transportation costs among mining operations. While the use of a rail line to transport products of gold mines might be less significant (given the very high value to volume ratio of gold ore), the route could enhance the development of other types of mining activities.
Other Economic Effects. Eureka County has defined as its economic development goals the attraction of light industry, the encouragement of agriculture, and the promotion of tourism and recreation in the county (Eureka County 1993). The development of the Carlin route could have significant impact on each of these goals. As described above, the attraction of light industry and encouragement of agriculture would be both positively and negatively affected by having a rail line bisecting the county.
In addition, the rail route could have significant effects on the county's promotion of tourism, mostly negative. U.S. Highway 50 has been marketed for tourism and visitor purposes as the "Loneliest Road in America." The existence of a rail line crossing this highway as it enters Eureka County from the west could deter prospective visitors from taking US 50 if the repository and all its components were generally perceived as dangerous or otherwise undesirable to visit. Any such stigma effect surrounding the repository could affect the overall economic health of the county. Any negative publicity surrounding the planning, construction, or operation of the repository or the transportation of waste to the repository could deter both potential visitors and potential businesses from coming to Eureka County. This could significantly detract from Eureka County's existing economic base and future diversification potential.
Effects on Local Government
Emergency Preparedness. The most significant effect on local governments of developing the Carlin route would be the increased responsibility of county, town, and school district officials to prepare for radiological emergencies. In a county of about 1,500 residents, this responsibility would impose a very high relative burden on the communities' fiscal resources. Even under current circumstances, where gold mining activities provide a significant tax base, the increased burden of preparing for a new type and level of risk would constitute a substantial increase in the cost of government. Under scenarios of curtailed or suspended mining activities, this burden could become overwhelming.
The elements of enhancing the communities' preparedness to deal with activities involving radioactive materials include the acquisition of equipment, facilities, personnel, and training to provide a reasonable level of security among the local population and visitors to the county. Because of its special and highly dangerous nature, high-level nuclear materials evoke a special anxiety among persons who feel they may be exposed to those materials (regardless of the assurances to the contrary about safety precautions). Therefore, the types and levels of measures that must be taken to provide reasonable security to local residents are among the most costly that local government must supply. To meet a local government's responsibility for protecting the health and safety of its citizens, the protection (including the perception of preparedness) must meet and exceed any credible scenario of potential accident or sabotage. This is particularly true of communities exposed simply by their proximity to transshipment corridors (i.e., with no stake in the benefits of the material being shipped).
In a rural community, this responsibility is a special burden, because government consists more of generalists than specialists. To be prepared to respond to incidents involving special hazards such as radioactive material requires the development and maintenance of special knowledge and skills beyond more general emergency response capabilities.
One potential complication to the county's preparation for transportation of radiological materials through the county could be the designation of large portions of the county as military operations areas (MOAs). In the Special Nevada Report, the Departments of the Air Force, Navy, and Interior present several "envisioned" changes to the military operations areas for the Fallon Naval Air Station (U.S. Departments of the Air Force, Navy, and Interior 1991). Three envisioned MOA changes (including one supersonic operations area) would affect Eureka County, and two of these — the Diamond MOA (including the supersonic area) and the Smokey MOA — would overlay the Carlin corridor (see Figure 11).
Property Tax Revenues. A potential benefit of development of the Carlin route is increased revenues to Eureka County, either as direct property tax payments or as Grants-Equal-to-Taxes/Payments- Equal-to-Taxes (GETT/PETT) under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and its amendments. If the railroad is privately-owned, the owner would pay property taxes, centrally assessed by the State of Nevada. If the railroad is DOE-owned, it would probably be considered part of the value of the repository subject to the GETT/PETT mechanism. However, the valuation and revenue received should be comparable, theoretically, if GETT/PETT is interpreted as a requirement that DOE make payments equivalent to those generated as if the railroad were in private ownership.
Other Fiscal Effects. Besides the effects of the Carlin route on the costs of preparing for special hazards, there will be costs associated with "standard" governmental operations for an increased population. For example, during construction, the increased population associated with the inmigrant construction work force and their families would increase the demand for most services provided by local government. On the other hand, the increased population would also increase the revenue base to provide resources to support those services. However, because the construction and operation of the route is not expected to significantly increase either the net proceeds of mining or gaming activities (two revenue bases that contribute substantially to state and local resources), it is possible that the costs associated with the route would exceed its revenues.