Since 1980, Northern Plains has led a coalition of ranchers, Native Americans, local business people, and labor unions in fighting the ill-conceived Tongue River Railroad. If that coal-hauling railroad is constructed according to its permit, it will bisect farms and ranches for 131 miles in the Tongue River Valley – cutting property values, separating pastures from water, spreading weeds, and likely starting fires. To raise funds for protecting the valley, Northern Plains and Tongue River Valley residents have held the Birney Barbecue every year since 1992.
The original reason for the Tongue River Railroad was to service a new coal mine that was permitted in the 1980s. That mine was never built, so the railroad’s promoters amended their permit to allow the line to connect with Wyoming coal fields. This would eliminate the transportation advantage held by Montana coal mines, and would allow Wyoming to cut into markets held by Montana mines. It would displace farm and ranch land, and would endanger the jobs of railroad workers and, eventually, Montana coal miners. In 1992, Northern Plains collected and submitted to the federal Interstate Commerce Commission more than 1,000 letters from area residents opposed to the Tongue River Railroad. In 1997, the United Transportation Union Local #951 in Sheridan, Wyoming, presented Northern Plains with their “Brass Lantern” award in recognition of our work to stop the Tongue River Railroad. The railroad’s promoters have made periodic changes in their proposal, and it is now linked closely to development of the Otter Creek coal tracts near Ashland.
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