CP-BNSF freight rail discussed on Tuesday, February 17th

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

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

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

Representative Keith Ellison

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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.