Apr 032013

By Naomi Hatch
“The Town of Snowflake is highly involved with trying to attain the railway between here and Holbrook,” said Mayor Kelly Willis reported during the March 26 town council meeting.
“We have water, we have gas, we have electric and we have the rail,” said the mayor. “Without the rail we feel like we would lose an opportunity, especially with the development that goes on in that corridor.”
Mayor Willis and Town Manager Paul Watson traveled to Washington, D.C., with the president of the Apache Railway seeking support. They met with Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, Senator Jeff Flake and officials of the Federal Railway Administration. The mayor and Watson have traveled to Navajo County and the state capitol and “found a lot of support there,” according to the mayor.
“It was quick and it was hard,” said Willis of the trip to Washington. “We do feel like our agenda’s complete.” He acknowledged that at times the project seems overwhelming, but he still feels they need to keep the rail.
The problem lies with the fact that its value scrapped is $10 million and to lay it down again would be between $70 million and 80 million. Willis said that the railway is in prime condition, with seven engines and a crew that is still operating it. “We feel like we are making progress,” said the mayor.
“I want you to know this, and I won’t lie to you, we’re on a lot of faith and a lot of hope that things work out and things move forward,” the mayor continued. “The Town of Snowflake does not want to own that rail, we’re hoping we can keep it going long enough for someone to buy that rail.
“We feel confident that if this does go south, that if it does have to go the way of the world, that we can reclaim our money, we can get the money back through the scrap, through the salvage to pay 100 percent of our debts, but we’re hoping it will move forward.”
Watson explained that the rail was in business to serve Catalyst Paper’s Snowflake mill and has a couple of small contracts, one for feed with PFFJ and recently one for storage for Preferred Sand. He said that the rail is important to the region economically, noting, “The bottom line is, in the meantime we have this gap between current operations that are minimal that makes it worth a million dollars and scrap worth $10 million.” He said that the reality is that a scrapper can bid much more than someone who wants to keep the railway.
“We’ve told our story far and wide,” said Mayor Willis. “We’ve made a lot of people know where Snowflake is anyway.”
Watson added that they are not asking for money, they are asking for low interest loans, feeling that the railway will become self-sustaining and eventually profitable.