Ranchers fight a railroad

  • Proposed railroad line

    Diane Sylvain

Ranchers fight a railroad

Ranchers living on the prairie of southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming say they're being railroaded.

The Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railroad wants to extend its line 144 miles from South Dakota into Wyoming to the Powder River Basin's coal mines. About 54 miles of the new line would cut across private lands, in an area that looks much as it did when General George Custer rode through the Black Hills in the 1800s.

"This is an area of pristine open space that is precious to us," says Nancy Darnell, spokeswoman for 350 ranching families who are fighting the railroad.

The rail line would block antelope migration routes, she says, cut off water and shelter sources for cattle, and slice through two important fossil-bearing formations. In some cases, the new rail line would pass between houses and outbuildings.

Support for the railroad line is coming from economically depressed towns such as Newcastle, a railroad town tucked up against the southwestern edge of the Black Hills, but most ranchers have vowed to fight.

Darnell's group, Mid-States Coalition for Progress, has teamed with environmental groups. They want a federal environmental impact statement started on the effect of the railroad on public and private lands. "There are some things more important than economic development for the greed of one company," says Darnell.

Nonetheless, DM&E; president Kevin Schieffer says, "It's been my experience that in all cases such as this where a railroad faces opposition, the railroad usually gets built."

* Tom Reed

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