With CP Rail expansion, neighbors hope concerns will be heard

Canadian Pacific Railroad operates a switching yard near Pig’s Eye Lake, located just west of the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and Lower Afton Road. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

With Canadian Pacific Railroad applying to expand operations at its Pig’s Eye switching yard, neighbors are approaching it as an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Canadian Pacific Railroad hopes to fill in six acres of wetlands to enlarge the facility, located just west of the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and Lower Afton Road.

The project would add tracks to the switching yard and an access road connecting to Highway 61.

Because of the magnitude of the wetland impacts, the project had to go through an environmental assessment. St. Paul released a 30-page environmental assessment worksheet March 31, outlining potential effects the project would have on the surrounding area.

The EAW delves into everything from potential floodplain impacts to soil types at the proposed site, to impact on wildlife. The EAW also makes note of the company’s transporting of hazardous chemicals, including petroleum products.

According to the EAW, the CP Rail project “will expand the length of the tracks “so that they can handle 10,000-foot trains. This will mean that less switching will be required -- reducing congestion on the mainline and reducing the use of locomotives for splitting trains, and related locomotive fuel consumption, exhaust, and noise related to switching operations at the yard.”

To view the EAW, visit www.stpaul.gov/cpraileaw.

Grabbing CP Rail’s ears

Betsy Leach, director of the District 1 Community Council where the rail yard lies, said the EAW had some promising points for residents who’ve been complaining about train yard-related woes.

“It’s the first time they’ve acknowledged that there are some issues” in terms of noise and pollution at the switching yard, she said. “We were happy with that.”

Leach touted the positive aspects of the EAW, including that it means CP Rail officials will hear residents’ concerns directly.

“It’s the first time we’ll actually be meeting with officials from CP Rail, because they haven’t been willing to meet with us,” she said. This way, “we can further advance the concerns” about noise and pollution.

A public meeting on the proposed project and the EAW will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at the Battle Creek Recreation Center, 75 S. Winthrop St. Representatives from CP Rail and St. Paul, and the consultants who prepared the document will be available at the meeting to answer questions.

Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for CP Rail, said he’d be present at the meeting, adding, “Our railroad is committed to following this process and working with the city and the DNR and other stakeholders.”

Noise issues

Noise from the rail yard has been a common complaint among nearby residents over the years.

The EAW states that as it stands now, some of the rail yard activity could exceed state standards for noise control.

However, it states that there’s a gray area in terms of what agency regulates rail yard noise -- federal noise standards are less strict, and CP Rail’s activity doesn’t exceed those federal standards.

Leach said the gap between federal and state regulations on the issue has been a source of frustration for residents and the district council. The federal regulations need to be updated, she contended.

The EAW indicates that officials from the city and state are looking into whether local noise regulations have a say over regulating activity at the rail yard.

City processes

Josh Williams from the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department said the EAW is a preliminary step for CP Rail -- after the public comments process closes, a number of steps remain.

CP Rail will need to apply for a conditional use permit, as well as a variance for wetland impacts.

The project gets scrutiny from a variety of city groups, including the planning commission and the zoning committee.

Once a decision goes through those groups, it’s final, unless appealed to the city council.

Turtle mitigation

According to the DNR, the proposed projects could endanger Blanding’s turtles, a state-listed threatened species, and other wildlife.

A letter from the DNR states that the turtles have been found near the site of the proposed project.

In order to minimize impacts to the turtle, the EAW lays out ways that CP Rail would deal with the amphibian.

This would involve handing out informational fliers about the turtles to all the contractors working on the project. In addition, contractors would be asked to move the turtles out of construction areas, avoid disturbing nests, and place temporary fencing to keep the turtles from entering construction areas.

Wetland infill

If CP Rail is allowed to fill in six acres of wetlands to expand its Pig’s Eye switching yard, the company would be required to mitigate the loss at a 2-to-1 ratio. This could be accomplished by purchasing credits from a state wetland bank, or by creating new wetland areas within the St. Paul parks system or DNR property.

The document also lays out the potential impact from water runoff -- with more impervious surfaces from the addition of a road, CP Rail would look to filter water leaving the site before it enters the lake.

In addition, the rail company would be responsible for adding measures to prevent erosion, including planting wetland vegetation.

As part of the project, CP rail would place a large, 20-foot-tall retaining wall along the edge of their property, which could be visible to people visiting the area for recreation.

In order to hide the wall, CP Rail would plant willow trees in front of the wall.

Not yet assuaged

Barry Farrell, who lives near the rail yard, said CP Rail’s project proposal had him worried.

Despite the company’s intentions of improving efficiency at the yard, he worried the end result will ultimately be more noise and air pollution.

But nonetheless, he said he sees the public process as a way for residents to plug into the issue.

“My hope is that the issues, as they’re raised ... are addressed in some way” by CP Rail.

Farrell, who’s been a critic of the company’s train yard ever since he moved into the neighborhood a few years back, said the public process “could be a blessing in disguise.”

And in theory, he said, he and other neighbors don’t have a problem with the railroad expanding. Rather, they have problems “with the expansion at the expense of people who live in the area.”

“Fine and dandy, you have some good reasons to expand,” he said, but pondered whether “someone else is going to have to pay for it in terms of the livability of the area.”

When would it start?

Construction on the project would start following city approval -- the EAW states CP Rail is hoping to begin in the spring of this year on the first phase, which would mean building a retaining wall along Pig’s Eye Lake and an access road, which would take four or five months.

While the company would like to begin building by the end of the year, “right now the focus is the environmental review process; doing our due diligence,” Greenberg said.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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