But Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners have said they were uncomfortable with past deals to let the railroad pass through the hatchery, where endangered pallid sturgeon are raised. The agency's lawyers have said that if the state doesn't strike a deal, the railroad could take the property through eminent domain.
Mike Scott with the Sierra Club said Wednesday it was premature for the Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission to consider the easement agreement when federal approval is still pending.
The announcement in June that the Surface Transportation Board wanted a new application for the coal-carrying line marked a significant setback for the project. The board said it would conduct another environmental study of the line proposed between Miles City and Ashland.
"Let's do an environmental impact statement that's valid and see them get permitted again before we even start talking about giving away land to them," Scott said.Commission chairman Bob Ream said he was unprepared to comment Wednesday. An Arch Coal representative referred questions to BNSF, where a spokeswoman did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment. Mars is a former opponent whose Montana ranchland was in the path of the line until he bought a one-third interest in the railroad. The line has since been shortened from 130 miles to 80 miles.