Land may be reserved for Yucca rail route |

Land may be reserved for Yucca rail route

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – The Energy Department wants to reserve more than 482 square miles of public land to build a rail line stretching to a national nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert.

The Bureau of Land Management issued a public notice Monday on the Energy Department request to withdraw 308,600 acres of public land from surface entry and mining for the next 20 years. The department would study the land for construction, operation and maintenance of a rail line to Yucca Mountain.

“All we’ve done is ask the BLM to protect the public land from surface entry and mining for a period of 20 years,” Allen Benson, Energy Department and Yucca Mountain spokesman in Las Vegas, said Friday. “It does not stop recreation.”

The Federal Register notice comes less than a week after the Energy Department picked a route to haul high-level radioactive waste across Nevada to a planned nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

The plan calls for building a 319-mile rail line along a route the Energy Department designated as the “Caliente Corridor.” It would stretch from between Caliente and Pioche, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, around the Nevada Test Site through Warm Springs to Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Benson has said it could cost $881 million. The route includes land in Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties.

Rights of way, leases, and permits can be issued for the land as long as they do not conflict with the proposed withdrawal, according to the Federal Register notice.

However, Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev., insisted the withdrawal will limit access to a vast swath of public land.

“This latest proposal has the potential to limit hiking and other outdoor activities on more than 300,000 acres in Nevada and in theory, could stop any mining on this vast tract of BLM land,” she said.

Nevada officials and activists have called the Caliente Corridor expensive, circuitous and dangerous. They promised a legal challenge if they can find flaws in environmental studies.

The rail line would not take up all that land, but would run somewhere through it once DOE decides a specific route, said Dennis Samuelson, realty specialist with the BLM in Nevada.

Before the rail line can progress, DOE needs to issue reports about possible environmental effects, he said.