Al Harper is a good businessman and a good neighbor. The owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad demonstrated both Tuesday when he turned a crowd of angry Animas Valley residents into an appreciative audience by being honest, reasonable and direct.
Over time, though, he will need to continue working with those residents – and they will have to work with him. There are fundamental interests at play that both parties need to understand.
The trigger for this flap was the railroad’s application for a land-use permit. The idea is for a coal-fired “Dinosaur Train” to take passengers from the train station to land the railroad owns about three miles north of town in the Animas Valley. There passengers will find archaeological activities, food vendors and various dinosaur-themed amusements.
Valley residents objected. Figuring a possible three or four trains per day May through August, the neighbors saw dramatically increased noise, traffic and smoke, especially with locomotives sitting idle for hours.
A railroad spokesman said in an earlier meeting that it wanted that 120-day window only to allow flexibility. That, however, did little to calm neighbors’ fears.
Harper said the dino train would operate this year only for three specific days in July He also said there would be no idling engines. The crowd was pleased, and the permit was approved.
But Harper has also been consistently clear that more events such as the Dinosaur Train are what he needs and is seeking to ensure the railroad’s long-term financial health. The railroad’s neighbors need to know there will be more such plans – not to Disneyfy the valley, but to run the railroad at a profit.
At the same time, Harper should understand that these special events are largely seen as peripheral or extraneous to the D&SNGRR proper. Lacking the weight of history, they do not operate under the umbrella of good will and acceptance accorded the Durango to Silverton train.
Still, as Harper showed, with honesty and accommodation these things usually can be worked out. It was a good example.