Utah Recreational Land Exchange (URLEA) Defies Spirit of the Law
The legislative legacy of Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) rests with the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) of 2009. At that time, the bill received accolades from both the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and the Grand Canyon Trust. In 2009, the bill received unanimous approval by the U.S. House of Representatives and passed the U.S. Senate. In 2009, an executive summary of the bill stated, “H.R. 1275 (now Public Law 111-53-Aug. 19, 2009) would authorize the exchange of approximately 41,000 acres of land owned by the State of Utah and approximately 46,000 acres of U.S. federal land. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to accept the exchange if it is offered by the State.”
The exchange was to be an “equal value” land swap between the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In concept, The BLM would receive prime recreational acreage around Moab and throughout Grand County. SITLA, on behalf of the State of Utah, would receive prime mineral extraction lands in Uintah County. Upon development of mineral rights in Uintah County, all of Utah’s school districts would receive benefit of payments from the interest and mineral royalties accrued to SITLA.
According to a recent posting on the BLM website, “The BLM will acquire 58 parcels with high conservation and recreation value, totaling 25,034 acres, primarily in Grand County. These parcels will expand the BLM backcountry with world-class recreation sites like Corona Arch and Morning Glory Arch. This exchange will improve the quantity and quality of recreational experiences for visitors to public lands and waters managed by the BLM. The State will acquire 34 parcels with high mineral development potential, totaling 35,516 acres, primarily in Uintah County. The state expects development of these high potential parcels to boost public school funding across Utah.”
By titling their URLEA webpage the “Utah Recreational Land Exchange”, the BLM makes the agreement sound like a “win – win” situation for all concerned. Tourists will see a bit more protection for Greater Canyonlands, near Moab. Schoolchildren throughout the state will see school funding rise by an undetermined amount. Regarding the URLEA, BLM declared a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI). Thus, according to BLM, an acreage exchange totaling 60,550 acres is not a “major federal action” and “will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment”.
Uintah County, as well as the State of Utah, takes its name from the portion of the Ute Indian tribe that lived in the Uintah Basin. Among the 32,588 residents of Uintah County, the URLEA FONSI statement might raise a few eyebrows. Whether it is air pollution or water pollution, Uintah County has been the dumping ground for “the unwanted” since the mid nineteenth Century. Today, Uintah County features the most significantly degraded environment in the State of Utah. In fact, the degradation of both the human and natural environments of Uintah County is legendary.
Unlike most of Utah, Mormons did not settle Uintah County. In 1861, Brigham Young sent a scouting party to the Uintah Basin and received word back the area was “good for nothing but nomad purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to 'hold the world together'". That section of country lying between the Wasatch Mountains and the eastern boundary of the territory, and south of Green River country, was “a vast contiguity of waste and measurably valueless”. Young made no further effort to colonize the area. Instead, he decided to send Ute Indians there.
That same year, President Abraham Lincoln created the Uintah Indian Reservation, thus beginning the relocation of many Utah and Colorado Indians to the Uinta Basin. In the 1880s, the federal government created the Uncompahgre Reservation (now part of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation) in the southern portion of Uintah County. The Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation comprise a significant portion of west Uintah County. There is relatively little private land in the county.
Uintah County's economy is based on extracting natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, and uintaite, which is a natural asphalt more commonly known by its trade name, Gilsonite. In the 1860s, Samuel H. Gilson initiated mineral extraction in Uintah County. In the early twentieth century, Gilsonite became the base for the black paint on Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles. In the early twentieth century, coal was the focus of mineral exploitation. Although now defunct, the Dyer Mine, Little Water Mine and Uteland Mine each laid waste to lands within Uintah County. Today, the county features branch offices of several petrochemical companies, including Halliburton and Schlumberger.
The February 2014 URLEA Decision of Record states, “The overwhelming majority of the non-Federal lands in the exchange are within areas designated through the land use planning process for special management for conservation and recreational purposes.” What that document does not say is that the overwhelming majority of the Federal lands in the exchange are within areas designated “Open” for oil, gas and tar sands development. Even so, the BLM FONSI statement ignores the potential impact by saying that mineral extraction on over 35,000 acres in Uintah County “will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment”.
In Grand County, with its Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the now endangered Greater Canyonlands, the BLM paints a rosy picture of tourist dollars enhanced by the transfer of SITLA lands to BLM stewardship. On their webpage, they say, “Nearly six million annual visitors recreating on Utah’s public lands have boosted local economies and contributed to community job growth through recreation tourism. Public lands managed by the BLM in Utah contribute significantly to the state’s economy and, in turn, often have a positive impact on nearby communities. In fact, recreation on BLM-managed lands in Utah provided $490 million in local and national economic benefits in 2012.”
Again, if we look deeper, the picture is not so clear. In July 2013, Cushman & Wakefield completed the Appraisal reports for the Federal and non-Federal lands identified in the URLEA. The reports included a mineral evaluation of the exchange parcels "previously screened and identified by the State and the BLM" as having potential mineral values. Thus, if neither SITLA or BLM had previously identified the mineral resources on a given parcel, the Appraisal ignored the value of any minerals present. In fact, the Appraisal found that BLM would “experience a net gain of lands with potential for potash and sand and gravel and a net loss of lands with potential for oil and gas and tar sands”. Therefore, as SITLA and Uintah County experience a net gain of lands with potential for oil and gas and tar sands, BLM and Grand County will receive several natural arches and other sensitive sites, plus the potential for more new sand, gravel and potash mining.
In 2013, BLM claimed that it had no choice but to issue permits for potash exploration near the Hatch Point Anticline Overlook. If the Moab District Resource Management Plan Map (RMP) designated an area as “Open”, BLM said it was obligated to issue the exploratory drilling permits. Other questionable acts by the Moab BLM Field Office include the 2013 issuance of a commercial filming permit in the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Apparently, the local BLM office saw filming of a “MythBusters” television episode as being wholly compatible with “wilderness study”.
At Hatch Point, in what had been an undisturbed, spiritual environment, drill rigs now dot the landscape. Each mineral exploration foray into Greater Canyonlands lessens the future chances of creating a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. If the extraction companies can lay waste to sufficient territory, they can effectively destroy the undisturbed environment necessary for national monument status. Meanwhile, the Moab BLM Field Office stands ready to issue permits for filming and mineral extraction on an expedited basis.
Other than brief a mention on Page Seven of the URLEA Decision Record, there is no indication of where in Grand County those "sand, gravel or potash" resources lay. If the sand, gravel and potash deposits mentioned in the URLEA are in areas designated as “Open”, we can expect to see a boon in BLM permits issued for their immediate exploration and extraction. In the case of Hatch Point potash, the Moab BLM Field Office has already demonstrated blind allegiance to its own Resource Management Plan.
Under URLEA, we can expect any "Open" lands transferred to BLM purview to become immediately available for mineral exploration. In Moab, once exploration begins, it is only a matter of time before exploitation follows. That outcome would be in direct opposition to both the spirit and the letter of this law. Each parcel conveyed from SITLA to BLM should contain stipulations that include no future mineral development. Only then shall we see an actual increase in protection for Greater Canyonlands.
A major premise of the URLEA is that the land exchange between Utah (SITLA) and the BLM shall be of "equal value". If that is true, how can 25,034 acres of non-Federal lands with largely recreational or environmental uses be equal in value to 35,516 acres of Federal lands targeted for mineral extraction? Grand County itself is going through a binge of land clearing and drilling activity unseen since the days of Charlie Steen, the "Uranium King".
In their official Appraisal, Cushman & Wakefield valued each parcel according to its “highest and best use”. Even with 198 parcels included in the URLEA Appraisal, BLM contact Joy Wehking at the BLM-Utah State Director's office told me that representatives of Cushman & Wakefield visited every site. Upon returning to their offices, correlating their field observations with the existing parcel descriptions was a daunting task. Despite their apparent best attempt, or perhaps because both BLM and SITLA failed to identify its mineral potential, Cushman & Wakefield missed badly on at least Parcel 32.
According to all the positive publicity, the intention of the URLEA is to preserve and enhance recreation and to protect environmentally sensitive lands in Grand County. That such preservation and enhancement comes at the expense of an underrepresented rural county to the north is URLEA's “dirty little secret”. In Nevada, there is a secret place called “Area 51”, which is wrapped in myth and mystery. In Grand County, URLEA “Parcel 32” is equally mysterious. In a counterintuitive move, the BLM proposes to transfer a prime Grand County parcel to SITLA. Once it becomes part of SITLA lands, Utah can then lease it to the highest bidder or sell it outright.
According to URLEA maps and documents, Parcel 32 consists of 352 acres of Federal land adjacent to Canyonlands Field (Moab Airport). The “Oil and Gas Leasing Stipulations” for Parcel 32 are “Open Subject to Standard Stipulations”. Despite its obvious potential for commercial or petrochemical development, Cushman & Wakefield appraised the “highest and best use” of the entire parcel as “grazing land”. According to URLEA documents, Alan Swenson, Russell Stansfield and Fred Hunzeker do hold a grazing permit named “Bigflat-Tenmile”, but for only eighty of the 352 acres. That grazing permit expires in 2018. Elsewhere, in the URLEA section titled “Interests to be Conveyed or Reserved”, Parcel 32 reserves (and contains) county and U.S. highways and Union Pacific rail access, as well as a Fidelity Exploration & Production Co. “pipeline” and a Pacific Energy and Mining Company (PEMC) “gas pipeline”. Despite its “Open” status for oil and gas leasing, by identifying it as grazing land, Cushman & Wakefield erroneously appraised Parcel 32 as being worth only $780,000.
Other than the transportation interests in the property, what do we know of the current occupants of Parcel 32? Recently, Fidelity Exploration began increased culinary water purchases from the City of Moab, ostensibly for use on their rapidly expanding gas field near Dead Horse Point. Moab City Manager Donna Metzler says the amount of water the town sells to drillers is “not a big hit on the system,”. Metzler went on to say, "I don’t know exactly where they take the water. I don’t know exactly what they’re using it for... You would expect a small motel to use about that much water."
For their part, Pacific Energy, is one of the more secretive oil and gas operations in Grand County. Although they do have a website, it is identified only by their internet URL address, not the name of the company. Although their website looks professional enough, the PEMC "Oil" webpage links to a Chevron Oil Company "Crude Oil Marketing" webpage. The PEMC "Investors" webpage links to a Yahoo Finance stock listing for the company. Listed as "Over the Counter - Other", in the past year, PEMC has traded at between one cent per share and $.35 per share. Its latest close, on February 3, 2014 was three cents. Most stocks that I watch do not fluctuate by 350% in a single year. In any event, PEMC looks like a penny stock that is ripe for speculation.
Had Cushman & Wakefield appraised Parcel 32 for its potential as an oil and gas production site, or as a railroad and highway terminal or transfer-station for two of the largest oil and gas producers in Grand County, its value could have gone as high as $10 million. Not ironically, over 20,000 SITLA-owned acres, which were valued at $10 million, recently disappeared from the land swap in order to adhere to the “equal valuation” clause of the agreement.
If the current version of URLEA becomes law, what will future airline passengers and motorists see as they approach Moab from the north? As early as 2019, if the Moab BLM Field Office holds to their own Management Resource Plan, visitors can expect to see a 352-acre petrochemical production facility adjacent to Canyonlands Field. Based on its existing Management Resource Plan, and the BLM Moab Field Office's history of granting any and all conforming mineral exploration permits, the last chance to stop exploitation of Parcel 32 is to either remove it from the land swap or force SITLA to pay "equal value" as indicated by its potential for commercial or petrochemical development.
According to BLM contact Joy Wehking, SITLA is on public record that they plan to convey Parcel 32 into as yet undetermined private ownership. "It is the price we have to pay", she added. If the underlying premise of the URLEA is an "exchange of equal value", why should "we, the people" pay anything to assist private development of land designated by the URLEA as "cattle grazing land"?
Unless the BLM receives hard-copy, written protests prior to the close of comments on March 24, 2014, URLEA Parcel 32 will soon thereafter transfer to Utah/SITLA at a grossly undervalued price. If my evaluation is correct, SITLA should immediately reintroduce the remaining 20,000 acres originally targeted for inclusion in the land swap. Only with the inclusion of all $10 million worth of non-Federal parcels recently withdrawn, can the BLM claim that URLEA represents an "exchange of equal value". If SITLA refuses a fair appraisal for Parcel 32, BLM could void the URLEA and produce the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that it should have conducted in the first place.
As of this writing, it is too late for "comments". Even sending an email to BLM will not help. The only action that will halt this land-grab is if "interested parties submit written protests to the BLM-Utah State Director". Sadly, the BLM webpage for URLEA does not include the mailing address of the BLM-Utah State Director. During a telephone call to BLM contact Joy Wehking, she informed me that the appropriate mailing address is listed at the top of the "Notice of Decision" page.
Since the BLM did not see fit to put that address on their main URLEA webpage, I will publish it here: Attn. Joy Wehking, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Utah State Office, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1345. Ms. Wehking informed me by telephone that as of March 7, 2014, no written protests to URLEA were then on file. With my mailing a copy of this document to her, that situation will soon change.
at 10:46 AM |
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The Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane - An Untold Story of Engineering Innovation
Railroads, as we know them today have existed since the middle of the nineteenth century. On a typical rail system, rail cars move along a pair of steel rails that are evenly spaced apart. Although narrow gauge systems still exist, the standard gauge distance between the inside edges of the rails is 1,435 mm but in the United States, Canada and Britain it is still called 4 ft. 8 1⁄2 in. Wooden ties, laid in a bed of gravel secure these rails. This system of rails and ties we call a railroad track.
Originally, a group of workers (commonly known as a rail gang) would prepare the rail bed and lay down the tracks. Using hammers and spikes, the gang would manually set each individual tie on the rail bed. The process was labor intensive, and potentially very dangerous. The ties and rails were quite heavy, and there was always the potential to drop either, for example, on a worker’s foot.
Early on, the need for mechanical assistance was recognized. Soon enough, railcar mounted tamping machines and various cranes helped ease the burdens of rail construction and maintenance of way (MOW). Although some cranes were large enough to lift a locomotive back on to the tracks, many others were just large enough to lay ballast, lift ties and to position steel rails. As early as 1907, the Cullen-Friestedt Company, 1300 S. Kilbourn Ave., Chicago, Illinois entered that business with four-wheeled cranes designed to operate on rails. Although there is a contemporary Cullen-Friestedt Co. in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, that company is a closely held export management firm, not a manufacturer of mobile cranes.
Hearkening back to a pack animal of the Old West, the original Cullen-Friestedt Co. used the trade name “Burro” to market their rail-mounted cranes. Later, the Cullen-Friestedt tag line for the Burro Crane became the "Pack Animal of the Industry". Although there may have been other models during the past century, the Burro Crane progressed at least from Model 15 to 20, 30, 40 and 50.
In the early twentieth century, the Burro started big, with the Model 15. It was a boxy piece of equipment, but the operator had good visibility through the cab’s seventeen windowpanes. Projecting from the front of the cab was a double-girder boom, stiffened by metal latticework. In order to counterbalance the relatively heavy boom, the cab extended aft, wherein lay heavy cast-iron ballast. In the early twentieth century, gasoline and diesel engines were relatively small and inefficient. Although wood gave way to steel, lightweight materials such as aluminum were not yet widely used. Other than excess weight, another other major drawback was its extended cab. On a rail-mounted crane, the wide swing radius of an extended cab meant that the stern might overhang an adjacent set of rails, thus raising the danger of collision.
Since there is no separate Wikipedia entry for “Burro Crane”, many highlights of its invention and evolution may be lost to history. Thanks to a Google archive of old patent records, we can deduce that Mr. Edward V. Cullen was the design genius behind the Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane. In a review of Cullen Friestedt patent images, there is a 1945 patent submission for a wheeled mobile crane bearing the signature of “Inventor, Edward V. Cullen”.
As befitting the logic of sequential numbers, the Burro Crane Model 20 was next to go into production. After scouring the internet, I found only a few images of the Burro Crane Model 20. One was from an ad for the Cullen Friestedt Company in Railway Engineering and Maintenance Magazine. According to that 1930 ad, provided by the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, California, the Model 20 could act as its own engine, pulling construction or maintenance trains to needed locations. Referring to the self-propelled nature of Burro Cranes, the ad read, “With draw bar pull of 6,000 to 7,000 lbs. Burro Cranes frequently eliminate work trains or locomotives. On new construction, Burro Cranes handle their own trains”.
The second set of images derive from a 1929 patent submission, which included an Albert Y. A. Schmidt as co-inventor. The apparent differences between the Model 15 and the Model 20 were the introduction of a lattice boom and a new "truck for rotatably mounted structures" on the latter model. Representing a breakthrough in mobile crane design, the new truck featured a retractable crawler track for work beyond the railhead. The retractable crawler track allowed the Burro Crane to go where no rail-mounted craned had ever gone before. Later, Cullen modified its new truck design, fitting it with flanged steel wheels for travel on a mother car. With that option, MOW workers could quickly transport a Burro Crane over distances than would be economical in self-propelled mode.
Although I cannot place a specific date on it, I found an early Model 30 in an image taken by Mitch Goldman and posted on Railpictures.net. The Strasburg (Pennsylvania) Railroad’s Model 30 Burro Crane features both the multi-paned windows and the double-girder boom seen on the Model 15, but its cab configuration and diminutive size are pure Model 30. Since the Burro Crane Model 30 had a long production run, it continued to highlight the improvements in materials and design we associate with the mid-twentieth century. With the advent of high-strength safety glass, the number of windowpanes surrounding the operator dropped from seventeen to four, which were larger, water-sealed units.
Taking a cue from naval turret guns, the Model 30 featured a welded steel cab and compact construction. With its internal cast iron ballast, the Model 30 could operate on one track without danger of the stern overhanging an adjacent track. From the markings on a 1950’s Lionel Model 3360 Burro Crane; we know that the tare weight of the real crane was 67,000 lb. I found records of a Model 30 Burro Crane built in 1952. According to salvage auction website, a Model 30 Burro Crane manufactured in 1977 recently sold in fair to poor condition.
During and after World War II, there was widespread acceptance of diesel electric locomotives on American railroads. Although the new locomotives often weighed no more than did their steam age precursors, tandem diesel engines commonly pulled more cars and ran faster. With all of that speed and weight, American railroads upgraded their rail beds to include heavier ballast, ties and rails. To keep up with the trend toward heavier railroad infrastructure, Cullen-Friestedt introduced the 75,000 lb. Model 40.
Although Cullen-Friestedt continued to manufacture and overhaul the Model 30 for many years, the larger Model 40 became the MOW vehicle of choice for many American railroads. In 1972, Federal Sign and Signal Corporation sold Burro Crane #40-324 (construction #127005) to Northwest Pacific Railroad in Ukiah, California. That retired Burro Crane now finds its home at Roots of Motive Power in Willits, California.
By 1972, the old Federal Sign and Signal Corp. (now Federal Signal Corp.) had purchased the Burro Crane name and its manufacturing facilities from Cullen-Friestedt. From then until the current day, there has been a dizzying succession of mergers, acquisitions and assumptions of the Burro Crane name. Federal Sign and Signal did not own the Burro Crane name for long. According to one source, in 1978, Avis Industrial, “owner of Burro Crane Corporation” purchased Badger Construction Equipment.
Badger Equipment commenced operations in 1945, specializing in earthmoving, railroad, and material handling equipment, parts, and other products. According to Badger company archives, Badger marketed Burro Cranes under the Badger, Little Giant, Burro--CFT, Cullen FriestedtT, Western CullenT, and BurroT brand names.
In 1982, Badger introduced the heavier Burro 50 and Burro 6000. In 1990, Burro Crane Inc., then a subsidiary of Avis Industrial Corporation, moved from its Chicago facility to subsidiary, Badger, which acquired the Burro 40 & 45. Burro Crane was a sister company at the time. In 1997, Badger produced the last Burro Model 40 crane. In 2009, Manitex International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MNTX), a leading provider of engineered lifting solutions acquired Badger Equipment Company of Winona, Minnesota.
On the Badger Equipment Company website, is information on the current Model SPR48 Workrane. Looking like an updated and larger Burro Crane, Badger describes the SPR48 Workrane as follows: “When you need a true workhorse on the rails, look no further than the SPR48 Workrane. The only 20-ton, lattice-boom, rail-dedicated crane on the market, the SPR48 operates with dragline, clam shell or magnet attachments, has been completely updated with railroad safety items and meets the latest EPA emission requirements”. Other than its larger size, the description of the SPR48 sounds like a Burro Crane to me.
This is Chapter 2 of a two-part article on railroad Burro Cranes. To read Chapter 1, please click HERE.
at 08:19 PM |
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Union Pacific Railroad Burro Crane BC-47 at Seven Mile Canyon
In May 2013, I drove from Downtown Moab, via U.S. Highway 191 North. My destination was the turnoff to Utah State Route 313, which is the gateway to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. Although the distance was only eleven miles, the turnoff at Route 313 seemed like another world. Far from the shops and restaurants that make Moab so inviting to tourists, my destination was hot, dry and desolate. “Seven miles from nowhere”, I said to myself.
Almost as soon as I turned on to Route 313, I spied an interesting contraption parked on a nearby railroad siding. With my pickup truck, I had easy access to the location of this unusual mechanical beast. Nearby, a weathered railroad sign identified the place as “Seven Mile”. Union Pacific Burro Crane BC-47 became “The Burro at Seven Mile”. In six-inch letters on the rear of its turret, the words, “BURRO CRANE” stood out on its cast iron ballast. In the dry desert air, that cast iron emblem could last for millennia.
On first glance, the turret of the Burro Crane looked like an antiaircraft gun from a mid-twentieth century warship. Upon further inspection, the function of the Burro Crane as “maintenance of way” equipment became obvious. With its flatcar as a tender, the Burro Crane was a mobile track repair vehicle. The burro’s compact, rounded turret allowed it to swivel without its ballast overhanging an adjacent rail line.
Nearby, old and worn-out railroad ties lay in a pile. In addition, at trackside was a collection of bent and worn steel rails. Rather than utilizing welded steel rails, the old the Potash Branch line features 1960s railroad technology. In keeping with railroad construction throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, wooden ties were set into gravel. Using large wrenches, nuts and bolts secured one track to another. For stability, spikes held the rails to the ties. Replacing earlier manual labor, the Burro Crane and its tender helped to automate the track repair process.
Accompanied by a small crew, the operator could use the Burro Crane’s diesel engine to propel both burro and flatcar to a prospective repair site. If rails required moving, the repair gang would first remove the bolts between the affected rails. After removing the spikes on the affected rails, the burro would use a cable-strung electromagnet to lift each rail from the roadbed. If the repair required new railroad ties, the Burro Crane could lift out any damaged or derelict ones. A bucket could scoop up new gravel from the flat car or reconfigure existing ballast at the scene. Once the ties were in place, the gang could bolt the rails back together and then drive spikes into the new ties.
By today's standard for automated track-laying along mainline roadbeds, the Burro Crane and gang system seem archaic. Still if repairs are only occasional and are not extensive in nature the Burro Crane’s throwback design and relatively diminutive size can be more economical than the use of heavier equipment. With weather and monkey-wrench protection for its powertrain, this vintage piece of equipment could go on operating indefinitely in the dry climate of the high desert. In wetter climates, most similar units have disintegrated into piles of rusty scrap metal.
The geographic setting at Seven Mile is epic. The crane's block and tackle dangled only six feet from the ground. The angle of the lattice-boom appeared ready for business. In the background are the Klondike Bluffs of Arches National Park. From another angle, the view beneath the long boom is of the La Sal Range, far past Moab. Other than the power poles and their high-voltage lines that cross near Seven Mile, the Burro Crane was the most prominent human-made object in sight. In fact, it appears on Google Maps (2014 version) much as it did the day of my visit.
With a Union Pacific emblem on the side of its cab and its faded yellow paintjob, the Burro Crane appeared to be authentic Union Pacific rolling stock. Soon I determined that Burro Crane BC-47 more likely started life with the old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGW), which is a precursor to the contemporary Union Pacific.
The giveaway is the flatcar tender, which appears to be even older than the venerable Burro Crane. The flatcar still bears DRGW markings. Spray-paint on the side of the flatcar indicates that the last date of inspection or repair was 4-‘84, almost thirty years prior. In the Old West, a prospector and his burro were mates for life. Since the arrival of this burro, more than half century ago, the old flatcar and the new burro mated and then stayed coupled for life.
As I began my research into Burro Crane BC-47, I found that it might be the last Model 40 Burro Crane operated by the Union Pacific Railroad. My Google searches yielded only two pictures of Union Pacific Model 40 Burro Cranes and both were of BC-47. In the past decade, BC-47 has apparently stayed close to home. Those two photos of the crane and tender were taken in nearby Green River, Utah and Grand Junction, Colorado. With its age and size, it is unlikely that BC-47 would stray beyond the Western Slope of the Colorado Plateau.
If indeed the Burro at Seven Mile were the last of its breed operated by the Union Pacific Railroad, it would be interesting to see it in action. I propose that rail buffs in Moab and fans of the Union Pacific Railroad request a public demonstration of Burro Crane BC-47. Since it already sits on a siding, that demonstration could include lifting old rails and ties on to transport vehicles for disposal at an appropriate location. If anyone out there can help to arrange such an event, please contact me at my email address below. I shall be happy to attend.
This is Chapter 1 of a two-part article on railroad Burro Cranes. To read Chapter 2, please click HERE.
at 05:15 PM |
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Brightsource and Bechtel Missed the Opportunity for Co-generation at Ivanpah Solar-Thermal Station
Less than two years ago, I wrote about the rush to industrialize the Mojave Desert with ever-larger solar thermal arrays. The most notable example was Brightsource Energy’s mega-solar plant in California’s Ivanpah Valley, near Primm, Nevada. Together, the three Brightsource units at Ivanpah obliterated 3,500 acres of fragile desert habitat, replacing it with 170,000 motorized, articulating mirrors and three massive receiving towers.
On September 24, 2012, Brightsource confirmed that it had synchronized their Unit 1 station with the existing electrical power grid. Although a photo on their website shows most, if not all of the Unit 1 mirrors in operation, no one other than the plants operators knows how many of the articulating mirrors pointed at the receiving tower during synchronization.
While testing prior to synchronization, operators focused many of the Unit 1 mirrors to either side of the receiving tower. Photos taken during the test procedures show an ominous “solar flux” to either side of the receiving tower. As additional heat for steam generation was required, operators quickly moved standby mirrors to focus directly on the receiving tower. Although it amounted to a “proof-of-concept” connection, in the months that have followed, Brightsource has yet to announce repetition of the synchronization process.
Since the Ivanpah project represents a quantum leap in solar thermal power generation, no one knows if it will work as planned. Will plant operators be able to point all 170,000 panels at the three receiving towers on any given day? Will the intensity of the reflected solar flux destroy the steam generators at the top of each tower? If Brightsource knows the answer to these questions, they are not talking. Their press releases featured platitudinous and self-congratulatory rhetoric about their first synchronization, but little else about testing protocols and procedures.
Maybe the Ivanpah mega-solar plant will succeed and maybe it will fail, but one mega-mistake is obvious. When Bechtel Corporation planned the facilities for Brightsource, they omitted any onsite thermal storage capability. If the plant ever works, it will produce power only when the sun is shining. When questioned, Brightsource said that they needed to get “several” plants working without onsite thermal storage prior adding that complexity to future projects. In other words, the technology is not yet ready to do it right.
As we know, the electrical grid is a complex and vulnerable infrastructure. Adding or subtracting too much power too quickly can cause cascading shutdowns of the adjacent grid. If Brightsource and Bechtel can simultaneously synchronize all three units with the grid, the lack of onsite thermal storage will limit electrical power production. If liquid-sodium thermal storage was present at Ivanpah, it could help balance and augment power generation at the site. With onsite thermal storage, co-generation could begin prior to sunrise and the mirrors could come online as the thermal storage dissipated. That would allow for a smooth ramp up of power entering the electrical grid. Without co-generation from onsite thermal storage, operators must bring each unit slowly up to power. Once operators achieve that elusive synchronization with the electrical grid, they can then focus additional mirrors on the receiving towers. At some point during the day, one would hope that all 170,000 mirrors would focus on the towers.
In the late afternoon, operators would refocus more mirrors away from the receiving towers. By sunset, the towers would go dark, steam generation would cease and the process of disconnecting each of the three units from the power grid would commence. The following morning, each unit would go through the delicate process of reheating and synchronization with the grid. The situation almost guarantees that the massive plant will rarely achieve maximum power output and will spend much of its time ramping up and ramping back down.
No one has said what would happen if a desert thunderstorm were to move rapidly over the solar array. What effect would so rapid a withdrawal of power do to power generation and synchronization to the electrical grid? What effect would a downpour have on the superheated receiving towers? If storms were in the forecast, the plant would have to operate at lower power, in anticipation of possible weather related shutdowns.
Like an old-fashioned steam locomotive, contemporary steam generators are more efficient and last longer when they operate continuously. Unlike a diesel electric locomotive, which can be brought up to operating temperature quite quickly, the firebox of a steam locomotive is kept hot until it is taken out of operation for maintenance or repair. Restarting these ancient “steam generators” is a time consuming and delicate process. Likewise, daily thermal cycling of the superheated steam generators at Ivanpah guarantees premature wear and increased operating costs.
In their haste to design and build the largest solar thermal energy station ever, Brightsource and Bechtel have made two potentially fatal errors. First was the aforementioned lack of onsite thermal storage and co-generation. Second was their use of single-sided mirrors for focusing sunlight on to the receiving towers. Had Bechtel taken a little more time in designing the systems, they could have designed the 170,000 articulating mirrors to flip over, thus exposing passive solar electrical panels affixed to their undersides.
If they had utilized this scheme, the majority of panels could start each day in passive solar mode, generating sufficient electrical energy to synchronize with the grid. Upon achieving synchronization, operators could begin flipping panels so that their mirrored sides would focus on a receiving tower. As sundown or a thunderstorm approached, operators could begin flipping panels from reflecting mode to passive reception mode, thus smoothing the ramping down of electrical generation and eventual disconnection from the grid.
The key to this plan is to switch quickly from solar reflecting mode to solar receiving mode. Before state and federal regulators approve construction of any additional solar thermal plants in our fragile desert environment, they should require both thermal storage and passive solar additions as part of any new plant construction.
at 05:42 PM |
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