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BNSF: Permit needed for sidewalk that's been there 50 years

BNSF Railway is asking the city of Atwater to submit an application and $600 fee for a permit to allow a sidewalk that has crossed the railroad tracks for more than 50 years. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

ATWATER -- A well-used sidewalk that has crossed the railroad tracks in Atwater for more than 50 years could be ripped up unless the city applies for a permit from Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

A motion offered Wednesday during the Atwater City Council meeting to apply for the permit died for a lack of a second.

The City Council is "wondering why they're getting charged for a permit for the first time in 50 years," City Clerk Goldie Smith said.

Amy McBeth, spokeswoman for BNSF, said Friday the railway company will work with the city to resolve the issue.

Last month the city received a letter from BNSF saying the railroad was unable to locate an existing permit for the "pedestrian only" crossing on Second Street and if the city wanted the sidewalk to remain, it needed a private crossing agreement with BNSF.

A $600 non-refundable fee is required along with the application.

Without an agreement, BNSF will "permanently remove the pedestrian crossing within 90 days," according to a letter.

After searching city records, Smith found council minutes from 1959 that show the city and the railroad -- Great Northern Railway at the time -- had negotiated a formal agreement regarding the sidewalk. She's hoping those 50-year-old records will be enough to satisfy BNSF today.

The story starts back in January of 1959 when Atwater residents expressed their unhappiness with the "inadequate" railroad crossings on Second and Third Streets. The city requested "modern" signals be installed at both crossings.

A deal that was struck between the city and railroad is spelled out in a resolution approved during a special City Council meeting on Oct. 23, 1959.

Under the arrangement, the crossing on Second Street would be closed to vehicular traffic and the railroad company would install automatic warning signals down the block at the railroad crossing on Third Street.

Another part of the deal was retaining "the present pedestrian crosswalk" on Second Street, according to the resolution.

The sidewalk is in good condition. New concrete was installed just a few years ago, according to Smith.

McBeth said BNSF has received copies of the documents and is reviewing them. "We will work with the city," she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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