Monthly Archives: February 2015

In this recap, I am going to focus on the Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight train connector rail project.  What does this project mean for Crystal?  What is currently being done to address the issues it presents?  What can Crystal residents do?  For background information, you may read past recaps written by council member Kolb.  The following questions were discussed during our regular council meeting, and the latter work session.

What does this project mean for Crystal?  Currently, our main concerns focus on public safety- the potential for reduced emergency response time from West Metro Fire, Ambulance, and Police services; and the danger presented by highly volatile Bakken oil being moved through our city at a much greater frequency.  I also anticipate that this project could be detrimental to our local economy and housing market, hurt our small-town atmosphere, and generally reduce quality of life.

Emergency Response Time:

The cities in the northwest suburbs have agreed to provide aid to one another during emergency situations through Mutual Aid Agreements.  Currently, during some emergency events, other nearby cities will assist by responding to support the city in which the emergency is happening.  In the short term, should a city experience delays in emergency response due to a train caused delay, these agreements would allow other cities to provide emergency services to the city in need.  However, this is not an acceptable or sustainable long-term solution.  Other cities may not be able to sustain our needs along with their own emergency demands.  The delay in our services creates a ripple effect in the area.  We need to ensure that Crystal remains entirely functional, and can independently sustain the majority of our own emergency needs.  The CP/BNSF rail project threatens our ability to do this.

Danger of Bakken Oil Trains:

What is the difference between regular oil and Bakken oil?  Bakken oil is derived from the “Bakken Formation”, which is a geological formation found in Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  The oil is extracted through Fracking and drilling, with primary operations out of North Dakota.  This type of oil accounts for more than 10% of all domestic production.  Bakken oil has been called an “imminent hazard” due to higher levels of combustible gasses. Read this study published last May. This Monday, one day before the council meeting, a Bakken oil train derailed in West Virginia, “The derailment shot fireballs in the sky, leaked oil into the Kanawha River tributary, burned down a nearby house, and forced nearby water treatment plans to shut down”.  The train cars in this derailment met the current safety standards.  In 2013, a derailment occurred in a Quebec town, killing 47 people, and eventually destroying most of the city’s downtown with a blast radius of over half a mile.  Bakken oil trains currently present a real danger to our community, and this danger will only grow as Canadian Pacific increases the frequency and length of trains through our city.

What is currently being done to address these issues?  At this point, our options are limited.  Railroad companies are regulated by the Federal Government, and are entirely out of our jurisdiction.  We are, however, taking the following steps:

1. We are petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to require Canadian Pacific and BNSF conduct an Environmental Impact Statement prior to beginning construction of the new connection.  Based on several conversations our city staff has had on this topic, we have reason to believe that the railroads are taking steps to avoid this assessment.  An environmental study will reveal the actual toll on public safety and quality of life, and will allow for official community input.  I hope that the results of the study will further unite our community and government officials against the project.  On Tuesday, the Crystal City Council unanimously passed a resolution “Petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to Require an Environmental Impact Statement on Construction of Railroad Connector Track in Crystal, Minnesota”.  Other affected cities including New Hope and Robbinsdale have passed similar resolutions, and on Monday, February 16th, the MN State Senate passed a similar resolution as well.  Today, Thursday, February 19th, Governor Dayton issues a formal statement supporting our efforts.

2. We are taking steps to alleviate the resulting traffic congestion, and maintain proper emergency response time.  Constructing a grade separation in one of the intersections will achieve these goals.  On Monday, February 16th, the State Senate introduced a bonding bill appropriating money for the construction of a grade separation on Douglas Drive and the Canadian Pacific crossing.  The council and staff agreed that grade separation should be put in place even if we succeed in blocking the freight connector track.  The timeline for such a project spans at least three years, including several months of road closure during the actual construction season.  The grade separation will ensure that our emergency vehicles can pass without impediment.  It will also help in creating quiet zones around residential areas.

3. We are actively working to gather a coalition of local government authorities to unite against this project- area Mayors and council members, and our County and State representatives. Governor Mark Dayton sent a letter to the STB today expressing his concern about the project, and our local elected representatives are all engaged in the process.  Our action plan is to petition Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison to exert pressure on the Surface Transportation Board to cooperate with our request for an Environmental Impact Statement.  We also want our Federal representatives to enact measures granting communities more power in matters that have a direct local effect, such as railroad expansion projects.

For more detailed information, you may read the complete report compiled by Crystal city staff.

What can you do?  Call and write Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison, and ask them to petition the Surface Transportation Board to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS will allow our community to review the project details, and present our concerns to the rail authorities.

Senator Al Franken

Click to Email 

Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641

Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Click to Email

Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244

Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison

Click to Email

Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755

Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411

2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515

You can watch the entire council meeting here.

Listen to the work sessions here.

The Blue Line (Bottineau) Light Rail Project is currently looking for Crystal residents to serve on the Community Advisory Committee, and members from our business community for the Business Advisory Committee. The application process ends February 27, 2015. The application, along with detailed information about the positions, can be found here.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions!

Read more about the Blue Line LRT Project in my recent Council Meeting Recap.

It appears that the current theme of our council is trains.  Our evening started off at 6:15pm with a special Bottineau Light Rail Transit presentation by the Corridor Management Committee. The Corridor Management Committee exists to advise the Met Council on all issues pertaining to the project, including design and construction.  The committee is made up of local elected officials, with Mayor Adams representing Crystal.  The members presenting were Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, project manager Dan Soler, and Public Involvement representative Robin Caufman.  The main objective of their presentation was to illustrate the overall scope and status of the project, as well as plans for community outreach and education.

Some interesting points: The Federal Transportation Administration New Starts program is partially funding this $1 billion project.  The price tag is only an estimation at this point.  The FTA is involved in 12 other such projects throughout the U.S.  The rest of the financing burden falls on the State of Minnesota (10%), Hennepin County (10%), and Counties Transit Improvement Board (31%).  The Counties Transit Board consists of five counties- Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington.  Their vision is to fund transit projects using money derived from the quarter cent sales tax, and the $20 per motor vehicle sales tax.  The individual breakdown of the involved entities is interesting to see- Hennepin County, State of Minnesota, Metropolitan Council, the CTIB, and the Federal Government.  Our challenge as a community is to make sure our voices are heard and respected throughout this process.  It’s easy to get lost underneath all this bureaucracy and big money.

What does this mean for Crystal?  Crystal is planned for one LRT station on Bass Lake Road and Cty 81, with the train passing through the BNSF tracks along Broadway.  Our involvement in this project is addressed in the Municipal Consent Process, outlined by Minnesota Statute 473.3994.  Crystal will have an opportunity to review and approve the design of the preliminary plans, including the location of LRT track and station, pedestrian trails, and other features.  Several months ago, our city staff compiled a list of safety and noise concerns, and asked the project managers to address these issues.  We need to make sure that these issues are not swept under the rug, are approached with respect and sincerity, and properly addressed before any plans are solidified.  Mayor Adams is currently representing Crystal as a member of the CMC, and I have been appointed as an alternate during Tuesday’s meeting.

What is the timeline?  The project is currently in the development stage, with the Municipal Consent Process taking place in 2016.  The Corridor Management Committee foresees construction in 2018-20, with projected passenger operations in 2021.

What can you do?  The Corridor Management Committee is currently recruiting Crystal residents to serve on the Community Advisory Committee, and members of the Crystal business community to serve on the Business Advisory Committee.  The committees will work in tandem with Corridor Management to advise the Met Council on the project.  Please contact me if you are interested, and I will provide the details!

These are some of the details as presented by the Corridor Management Committee.  I welcome your input on this issue.  This project has the potential to dramatically change the atmosphere of our town, and it is essential that your voice is heard and taken seriously during this time.

Now on to more trains- Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight connector track update: 

Our city staff is working hard to approach this problem from as many angles as possible to ensure that the negative impact of this project is lessened, if not entirely eliminated.  We also want to use this opportunity to push for establishment of official Quiet Zones.  Train horns are on top of the list of Crystal resident frustration.  Council member Kolb has written another thorough update on this project, you can read it here.

 Approval of Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project:

The council passed a resolution approving plans and specifications, and ordering the advertisement for bids for Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project.  I’ve attended the neighborhood meetings for this phase, and was able to see that the reception of this project is positive throughout the neighborhood.  Initially, residents were displeased about the proposed sidewalks.  They were, however, able to voice their concerns and have the project amended to exclude any unnecessary sidewalk plans.  The financing of this project will be through special assessments, and I have stated in the past that I do not favor this method.  Crystal is in the last stages of finishing a 20-year street reconstruction process, and it appears that the last three phases will go ahead as initially projected.  My plan is to reevaluate the financing of future street maintenance and reconstruction, and make sure that we have provisions in our budget to cover these expenses without the use of special assessments.  Special assessments are indeed a tax, and to tax our residents on top of the property taxes already paid is an excessive burden.

City Hall Safety Precautions:

Following the regular council meeting, we held a second work session addressing the recent attack in New Hope, and discussed our current security provisions in City Hall. With the input of our Police Chief, we thoroughly reviewed our current policy, and agreed on several new safety measures.  Per the advice of our city attorney, this conversation took place during a closed meeting, and the recording will not be published.  Due to previous situations that have occurred during our council meetings, city staff and council members understand the difficulty of dealing with a potentially violent and disruptive situation.  We are happy to make improvements that help keep everyone safe, while protecting the rights of individuals to freely participate in city government.

Citizen Connection Initiative:

The council is currently going through a period of prioritizing and goal setting.  We have identified a number of goals we would like to accomplish, focused mainly on increasing citizen participation, building community and preventing crime, reviewing the budget process, and increasing transparency and accountability.  We hope to have a concrete timeline and specific projects outlined in the next month or two, so we can continue to work on improving our city and engaging our residents in a meaningful and rewarding way.

That is all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, or concerns.  I’d love to hear from you!

Click here to watch the council meeting.

Click here to listen to the work sessions.