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Railroad drops yard plans

A Progressive Rail locomotive crosses 95th Avenue in the Town of Eagle Point while switching cars in this Sept. 25, 2015 file photo.

Eagle Point residents concerned about a railroad trying to close a town road made their voices heard at a public hearing Thursday.

The overwhelming consensus from Eagle Point residents: Closing 95th Avenue would be a safety risk.

In September 2017, Progressive Rail petitioned the state to close 95th Avenue so workers would have a stretch of land long enough to assemble mile-long trains. The road is just short of a mile long, running from east to west and connecting Highways 178 and 124, with a railroad crossing bisecting it.

But closing 95th Avenue would route much more traffic to 105th Avenue, which is dangerous for pedestrians, the town argued. The alternate road is roughly a mile north and provides access to an entrance to O’Neil Creek Campground and several residential driveways.

At Thursday’s public hearing, hosted by David Albino, administrative law judge of the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads (OCR), Eagle Point and Chippewa County residents said emergency response times would be longer if 95th Avenue was closed.

Fire safety was an issue on the mind of Patricia McElroy, who lives on 93rd Avenue. Fire trucks having to detour around a closed 95th Avenue would increase response time, especially to the southeast part of the town, she said, and she worries about home insurance costs increasing because residents have less fire protection.

“You’re talking about quite a few people who won’t have access, who have lived there for a long time,” McElroy said.

Tina Cummings of 151st Avenue said the railroad should consider bringing back an overpass. In 2015, Progressive Rail expressed interest in exploring an overpass over 95th Avenue and began plans for a traffic impact study, but later abandoned the study.

Residents and town officials have said the plans were abandoned after the frac sand business took a downturn. Progressive Rail’s director of public affairs, Jason Culotta, told the Herald in December 2017 that he didn’t think the railroad’s business would see another dip, and said the sand business has matured and is more stable.

“If you close both of those roads, 95th and 105th, you’re going to force traffic down County (Highway) S. … You’re forcing all that traffic into a highly residential area where a lot of people live,” Cummings said. “If they want to expand … I’d like to see the overpass idea come back through again.”

Leonard Shier of New Auburn was worried about the effect closing 95th Avenue would have on commuter traffic heading to the Mills Fleet Farm distribution center. “We have a nice big warehouse on the other side of the tracks. What are you going to do to that business?” he asked, addressing railroad representatives at the hearing Thursday night.

Shier said he believes the railroad has showed a lack of transparency, since it abandoned plans to explore a proposed overpass over 95th Avenue. “There’s a lack of respect to the citizens and taxpayers to this community,” he said.

John Kopf of 151st Street agreed: “I can’t say enough about what a poor neighbor the railroad is.”

State Rep. Rob Summerfield of Bloomer, who represents the 67th Assembly District, said he was not involved in the process from its beginning, but he urged the OCR to slow down and find a “long-range solution.”

“(With) the distribution center, a lot of (traffic) is going to be heading south … and hitting Highway 29, but we know with this growing area, the residents are going to be using (County Highway) S quite a bit to get there, and hopefully with more development with this business park, we’re going to get more people working there and more businesses,” Summerfield said. “This isn’t going to solve the long term problems.”

Summerfield called for a compromise “so in five years we’re not dealing with a crowded Highway S,” he said.

Doug Darrow, who lives on 95th Avenue, called Progressive Rail’s petition to close the road a “knee-jerk” reaction. “Frac sand may not have been as active as it is now. I realize the railroad is a business, and they deserve the right to make a profit. But close this thing, and what happens five years from now?” he said.

Randall Woodruff, a town supervisor and member of the Eagle Point fire department for 19 years, said he also believed diverting emergency vehicles to 105th isn’t viable due to a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit and no-passing zones.

The OCR, a state agency, will have a decision by the end of April or the first week of May, Albino said. That decision will be posted on the OCR’s website, and on the town of Eagle Point’s website, town officials said.

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Dunn County News editor

Sarah Seifert edits and reports for the Dunn County News. Contact her with tips or story ideas at 715-450-1557 or at editor@dunnconnect.com.

(5) comments

Truth Serum

Summerfield's contribution to the discussion:

- I wasn't involved from the beginning
- We need a long-term solution

Where does the Chippewa Valley continue to find these people that supposedly represent us and are out for our best interests (and not theirs)?

Merlin

I would rather have someone openly admit that they aren't up to date on the situation than someone who offers a Monday morning quarterback response.

Summerfield's response isn't any different than my own initial response when I first heard they wanted to close it. My next response was knee jerk and now that I have done the homework, the road simply cannot be shut down for the reasons stated by the residents of that area.

My knee jerk response was the wrong one. Too often our representatives react how they think their constituents want them to for the sake of gaining their vote.

I will take someone who needs to do some fact finding instead of telling you what you want to hear everyday and twice on Sunday. The fact that he is now aware of some of those facts, he can then decide what his constituency wants him to do.

Truth Serum

Merlin - since you seem to know a little bit about everything as the online know-it-all, I think you should put those skills to good work and run for office.

Merlin

I don't know it all, never claimed to. I would be happy to have the same conversation face to face as I did with my county representative before the election. I stay informed and involved because it is my money after all they are spending.

I don't have the stomach to run for office. Politicians needs to be able to placate all voters whereas I lack tact and will just walk away from anyone too hard headed to see the forest between the tress. I am not the person to ask if you want an honest opinion because the answer won't necessarily be what you want. I am not afraid to speak my mind.

I have been called many names and I haven't sued anyone or protested because my feelings got hurt or because I somehow felt I was wronged. We are all entitled to our opinions and at times I make mistakes because the facts I have aren't correct and/or I didn't do enough due diligence.. I am big enough to admit I make mistakes and I am in fact not always right. I will admit however, I am right many times more than I am not.

Truth Serum

You're an idiot Merlin. Just admit it. You take the republican stance regardless of how stupid / dumb it makes you appear...especially when it comes to anything regarding the schools. My guess is you don't have kids (or you did and lost them) and are probably divorced. Always have an ax to grind and more than willing to talk down anyone with a different (even slightly varying opinion). I've voted republican all my life and I've had it with every knucklehead state representative we have from Holcombe to Eau Claire -- Moulton, Bernier, Summerfield, etc -the names just scream out for term limits. Doesn't mean that the democrats are any better. Just that the republicans had a chance to really make a difference and they blew it.

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