Issues Identification Report for the
Carlin Rail Route Option


DOE's Yucca Mountain rail access planning process has been subject to under-funding, uncertainty, and delay. Therefore, Eureka County, should it desire to do so, has the opportunity to gear up its involvement in the rail access planning process. The following sections summarize the findings of this report in terms of opportunities for Eureka County involvement in the study of the Carlin route option and potential issues for investigation. Finally, there is a brief discussion on how Eureka County can position itself for a higher level of involvement in DOE's rail access planning process.


Among the important findings of this investigation are:

  1. DOE's Preliminary Rail Access Study identified ten basic route options, or corridors, and recommended that three of them, including the Carlin route option, be given further study at the Conceptual Design level. However, DOE has not ruled out consideration of new corridors not included in the Preliminary Rail Access Study process. In fact, one of the ten options considered included significant corridor modifications suggested by Lincoln County and the City of Caliente, not DOE. Therefore, if it so wishes, Eureka County may propose alternative corridors to DOE.

  2. To date, only the Caliente route option of the three route options recommended for Conceptual Design has undergone Conceptual Design. DOE has not requested funding for additional Conceptual Design work in fiscal year 1994, and funding for Conceptual Design work in the future is uncertain. If funding is made available in the future for more Conceptual Design work, and the funding is inadequate to study both of the pending route options (Carlin and Jean), it has not been decided which of the route options will be studied first. Therefore, Eureka County has the opportunity to advocate, should it wish to do so, an order of priority for the remaining two Conceptual Design studies.

  3. The Conceptual Design study process defines specific route alignment options within a corridor and selects a preferred alignment based on engineering constraints, preliminary land use and environmental screening, and preliminary operating and maintenance costs. In central Nevada, route options tend to follow the floors of north-south trending valleys when possible and to use the gentlest passes from basin to basin when necessary. Therefore, considering topography alone, there are many route alignment options within a given corridor in all but the most constricted portions of the corridor. Other constraints engineering costs, federally withdrawn lands, land use incompatibilities, private land uses, environmental sensitivities which are used to narrow the options, represent public policies and expert value judgments and are not necessarily immutable criteria. In fact, they generally are subject to debate, re-evaluation, negotiation, mitigation, etc. Therefore, Eureka County has the opportunity to advocate its own alignments, even its own structures for evaluation of alignments, during the Conceptual Design stage of the process.

  4. At all stages, the DOE study process solicits public involvement but generally relies on consultant expertise. As a result, evaluations and decisions on rail access alternatives may appear to have been made away from the public eye to all but the most actively involved persons, organizations, and government agencies. Nevertheless, DOE is clearly on the record that local involvement is solicited even statutorily assured for potentially affected units of local government so there is considerable latitude for Eureka County input to identify issues of concern, frame them for consideration in the planning process, and have them considered. The opportunity for input may occur at already specified points in the process (e.g., EIS scoping). Or it may be created through an alternative process for interaction established directly by agreement and experience between Eureka County and DOE.

Alternative Alignments

In addition to the issues surrounding the currently-described Carlin corridor, individuals in Eureka County have expressed a desire to recommend alternative alignments for the Carlin corridor, generally avoiding the Pine Valley impacts described in this report. A cursory inspection of the elevations and grades surrounding the Humboldt River between Carlin and Battle Mountain suggests three possible points of departure: the Pine Valley connection described in the Preliminary Rail Access Study; a connection into the Crescent Valley near Beowawe; and a connection into the Reese River Valley near Battle Mountain.

Although it is important that Eureka County and its residents express their desire for DOE to consider alternatives to the present Carlin alignment, it is equally important that the county not be in a position to advocate an alternative alignment. It is sufficient to describe the disadvantages of the current alignment from the county's perspective, and to suggest that these disadvantages would be avoided or minimized by one of the other potential alignments. It is beyond the county's responsibility to attempt to answer all potential concerns (engineering, environmental, and other) regarding any alternative this is clearly the responsibility of the proponent of the nuclear waste repository and its access routes. If the county proposed a specific alternative, it could be in the position of having to support that alternative, through expensive engineering and environmental studies. Also, the county might incur opposition from its residents and from neighboring jurisdictions, raising the potential for additional costs of litigation and political processes.

Therefore, we recommend to the county that it prepare information concerning the Carlin route as currently proposed, and consider its interests vis a vis that alignment. This does not, however, preclude a description of potential impacts on the Carlin route relative to other parts of the county. For example, the county could consider comparing effects on specific conditions (e.g., value of croplands) along the Carlin route with effects in other parts of Eureka County.

Involvement in the DOE Rail Access Planning Process

For the county to determine its interests in the proposed Carlin alignment, and to communicate county policy to DOE, it is important to establish a mechanism in the county to consider these issues. This mechanism could include a procedure for studying specific route alignment issues, a means of discussing alternatives and their effects on local inhabitants, a means of communicating information to the Eureka County Board of Commissioners, and one or more points of contact with DOE, the State of Nevada, and other parties interested in Yucca Mountain transportation planning.

One example of such a mechanism could include establishment of a Eureka County nuclear waste transportation route policy group that would report to the Board of Commissioners. This group could include both technical and policy members whose primary responsibilities would be to collect information about any proposed rail alignment, to develop data on community conditions, to present route and other information to the public, to receive comments and recommendations from the public, and then to formulate policy options for consideration by the County Commissioners.

The policy group could also maintain regular contact with the Department of Energy to understand current developments surrounding the Yucca Mountain project generally, and the transportation planning activities specifically. It is important to maintain contact with DOE both at the Yucca Mountain project level and at the national OCRWM program level to ensure that information is current and reliable and to ensure that the county's interests are understood at appropriate levels.

The specific design of the policy group and its procedures should be discussed among Eureka County's Yucca Mountain Office staff, other key staff whose responsibilities include some aspect of repository-related planning, and the Board of Commissioners. Some considerations in designing the procedure include the appropriate mix of technical and policy representatives, the lines of communication and authority between the County Commissioners and the staff, and the appropriate degree of involvement of third parties in the process. Given the lead time available due to DOE's inactivity in detailed transportation planning, these issues can (and probably should) be worked out in process.

We recommend that the Commissioners consider the appointment of a core study group, perhaps comprising the Director of Public Works, the Chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, and the Yucca Mountain Office coordinator. This group could develop initial procedures and schedules for providing public presentations of information collected to date about the Carlin route and the socioeconomic and other data collected by the Office and develop a preliminary agenda for discussion of issues related to the route and its impact on Eureka County.

As DOE plans are discussed, and as alternatives are considered, the Eureka County Board of Commissioners could use such a group to maintain effective and efficient contact both with DOE and with interested observers and participants. At each milestone event, or as other circumstances warrant, the structure and mission of the group could be modified as appropriate, but the group's existence would provide a reliable point of contact for considering nuclear waste transportation issues.

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Last Updated 08/2003