Residents, officials demand more thorough study
Around 80 residents showed up at a public meeting about Canadian Pacific Railroad’s plan to expand its switching yard near Pig’s Eye Lake.
A quick show of hands revealed that nearly everyone was opposed the plan.
The meeting was a chance for St. Paul residents to give input on the railroad’s proposed expansion, which would infill 6.5 acres of wetlands and lengthen tracks to increase the rail yard’s capacity and reduce congestion.
Neighbors voiced concerns over the project’s potential impacts on wildlife in the Mississippi River backwaters as well as train-related noise. Several public officials, including St. Paul City Council president Kathy Lantry, state Sen. Fong Hawj and state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, were there as well.
“This is about an expanded private use for expanded private benefit, and we’re being asked as the public, to pay the costs for that,” said Tracy Sides, a Dayton’s Bluff resident and a neighborhood advocate.
“Don’t fill the wetland,” urged Dan McGuiness, interim director of the Lower Phalen Creek Project, an advocacy group for nearby parkland.
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. Public comments are open until April 30. To view the EAW and provide input, visit www.stpaul.gov/cpraileaw .
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 Canadian Pacific’s transporting of hazardous chemicals, including petroleum products.
CP Rail staff were present at the meeting as well. Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for CP Rail, said “we are taking the comments seriously and want to move forward in working more closely with the local community.”
Look deeper, officials urge
At the public forum, several residents and the District 1 Community Council called for a more thorough environmental assessment, called an Environmental Impact Statement.
Johnson, a DFLer whose legislative district includes the Battle Creek neighborhood and the train switching yard along Highway 61, suggested the EIS is a necessary next step.
“Given the significant impact, the best decision is to move forward to this EIS and see if there are other alternatives for this project design,” Johnson said.
Josh Williams from the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department laid out the basics of Canadian Pacific’s plan for residents. Williams noted various elements of the proposed project, including potential negative effects it would have on the rare Blanding’s turtle.
A letter from the DNR states that the turtles have been found near the site of the proposed railroad expansion and could be disturbed by the project.
Alicia Uzarek, policy advocate with Friends of the Mississippi River, questioned how the project could impact the Great River Passage plan, and specifically a plan to put a path around Pig’s Eye Lake. She said the group was also wondering how mitigation of wetland infill would be managed.
Peggy Lynch, former director of the Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, said before the meeting that plans to protect and improve the riverfront near the proposed site have been decades in the making.
“Over the years, that area has been so abused by the city of St. Paul, the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission, and the (St. Paul) Port Authority,” she said.
Betsy Leach, director of the District 1 Community Council, made note that the neighborhood has been pushing for relief from train noise for years.
She commended residents who went out “in the dead of winter and collected over 100 signatures” for a petition against excessive noise at the train yard.
The EAW states that as it stands now, some of the train 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 Canadian Pacific’s train 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 asserted.
Canadian Pacific spokesperson Ed Greenburg said after the meeting that the railroad has already taken steps to address noise from trains, and noted that the yard meets federal noise standards.
He said the company invested in “special, more expensive brake shoes, specifically designed for Canadian Pacific for use at the St. Paul rail yard in response to neighbors’ requests.”
Leach, in her public remarks, requested that the city and CP Rail consider possible impacts on nearby bird populations -- Pig’s Eye Lake is host to large heron and rookeries, as well as nesting bald eagles. She also suggested CP Rail rehabilitate Suburban Pond, located near Burns and White Bear avenues, as part of its wetland mitigation, if the switching yard expansion is approved.
Sides questioned whether filling in wetlands was good for St. Paul’s image -- “This is not about ‘NIMBY,’” she said. “The Great River Passage is about St. Paul setting up its front yard. So this is about not in my FRONT yard for St. Paul.”
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.