Economists have projected that the mine and railroad combined could generate almost 2,000 temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent mining jobs.
Mark Fix, a rancher along the Tongue River and long-time opponent of the railroad, said the huge scale of development could harm streams needed for agriculture and spoil the area's rural character. Fix said a lot has changed since the original proposal in the 1980s for a rail line to carry fuel to power plants in the Midwest.
"It doesn't feel like it's in the public good anymore. It's basically for the good of the Chinese now," he said. "They are expecting the U.S to become a Chinese colony, and we could take all these damages — damages on the coast from the new ports, damages from the railroads all through Montana and damages on our ranches and farms as well."
A second branch of the line potentially could serve other future mines, including on the nearby Northern Cheyenne Reservation, where historic opposition to coal mining has eased in recent years. However, no other mines have yet been proposed.
In an application for the project last month, the railroad relied in part on information from the original proposal for the line from 1983. But the Surface Transportation Board said in a Nov. 1 decision that it wants up-to-date information, including more details on the line's ownership structure.
Additional meetings on the railroad are planned on Tuesday in Forsyth, Wednesday in Ashland and Thursday in Miles City, and a second meeting in Lame Deer is set for Friday.
Tongue River Railroad study: http://www.tonguerivereis.com