Rio Grande County OKs letter of support in railroad bidding

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Rio Grande County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of support during its meeting on Oct. 19 reaffirming their support for any bidder on the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad that was willing to keep the line viable and running in the Valley with the stipulation that the county would forbear the back property taxes owned in order to incentivize the right bidder to come forward.

Rio Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker spoke on the subject during an interview stating that it was coming down to the final days and that something needed to be done to ensure the survival of the railroad in the Valley.

“We are really at the point that we need to ask what we, as the San Luis Valley willing to do to make sure that this railroad stays here and remains functional. We at Rio Grande County will support any bidder that meets our concerns,” he said.

The concerns Noffsker is referring to include ones that would shut the line down and force commercial users to seek possibly more costly alternative ways of transporting goods.

Right now, some of the agricultural community uses the SLRG Railroad to ship and receive materials at a lower cost than it would be if trucking were used. According to Noffsker, if the railroad were to stop shipping in the San Luis Valley, it would lead to over 24,000 additional shipping trucks on the highways to meet the needs of the agricultural community.

In addition to the agricultural impacts, current dealings with the Rio Grande National Forest logging projects may be impacted as well. Noffsker stated that the RGNF is currently looking at means to dispose of the dead trees being logged on the National Forest and fear shipping costs of those logs would go up if the railroad was no longer an option.

“When you really get down and look at the facts, its so clear how important the railroad is to the Valley,” Noffsker said.

The line has been in danger of shutting down since 2019 when previous owner Ed Ellis filed for bankruptcy with several years of back property taxes owed to all six counties of the Valley and Huerfano County. In the years since the announcement, Rio Grande County has taken the lead on trying to get the taxes paid in full and to ensure the line survived.

Within that process, it has been decided that Rio Grande County and Huerfano County are willing to forbear the taxes to be paid in increments by the winning bidder as long as the bidder keeps the line running for at least 10 years.

“The agricultural community is rail dependent; both import and export. We also have to look at public interest which is the tourism side of things. We need a company that can be compatible for both industries because our economies depend on it. What is the Valley willing to do to keep this viable if a bidder doesn’t come through? It is hard to say what the future holds,” said Noffsker.