Canadian Pacific Railroad’s plans for rail expansions in St. Paul are getting a little off track — the city of St. Paul publicly announced last week that the company’s proposal to expand the tracks at its Dunn Yard will be subject to prolonged scrutiny, in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement.
“We’re disappointed with the decision,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for CP Rail. “Our railroad had done due diligence in proposing comprehensive measures to address all environmental concerns associated with the project.”
The city came to the decision to require a more lengthy analysis of the railroad company’s plan, citing the potential for significant impact on wetlands, potential stormwater runoff issues, a potential eyesore of a retaining wall along Pig’s Eye Lake, and the possibility for additional hazardous materials passing through the yard. The project could also impact the rare Blanding’s turtle, which nests near the site, and a large heron rookery.
The timeline for completing the Environmental Impact Statement is yet to be determined, according to Josh Williams from the city’s Planning and Economic Development department. The timeline for the initial analysis of CP Rail’s project was about 2 1/2 months.
The more comprehensive EIS’s are not common, Williams added.
The rail yard sits next to Pig’s Eye Lake just to the west of Highway 61 near the intersection of Lower Afton Road. It’s across the street from a residential neighborhood, and homeowners have long complained about excessive diesel fumes and the sound of screeching brakes, idling engines and rail cars slamming together.
CP Rail hopes to increase the length of the tracks at the yard from 7,000 to 10,000 feet to improve efficiency — many of the trains coming through the station are longer than 7,000 feet, and so lengthening the tracks, as well as adding a sixth track, would allow trains to pass through the yard more easily.
The plan would require infilling 6.37 acres of wetland — CP Rail would be required to replace this wetland at a 2-to-1 ratio, and would do so mainly through buying wetland credits.
The company touts the plan as a way to reduce inefficiencies such as fossil fuel burning, and to ease some of the vexing noises caused by switching operations. It would also add an access road connecting to Highway 61.
Because of the magnitude of the wetland impacts, the project had to go through an environmental assessment. Based on that assessment and input from organizations such as the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, the city determined the plan would have to undergo a more thorough assessment.
Greenberg said CP Rail is “in the process of reviewing the decision more closely to understand how the city reached that conclusion.”
He said what the company does next will be based on the outcome of that review.
He couldn’t say when CP Rail would be done reviewing the decision, nor could he say whether the company would challenge the city’s decision.
Greenberg said the company was frustrated, explaining the company “will be delayed in being able to make our yard more efficient” and noted it will mean a delay for addressing residents’ concerns over noise and air pollution.
Betsy Leach, director of the District 1 Community Council, said the delay is somewhat frustrating for residents near the tracks overlooking the Mississippi.
“It’s frustrating for us wanting to see something actually happen down there,” she said. She did add that she’s hoping the delay will mean the EIS will be “focusing on things that are of concern to us: noise and water pollution.”
“We’re hoping that if we do have to wait longer, that it’s going to be something that will benefit the community,” she said.