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County supports connection track west of Willmar

WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to support a memorandum of understanding under which the county and other governmental entities pursue the concept of constructing a railroad wye connection track located west of Willmar.

The concept will be the focus of an application by BNSF Railway, the county and others for a U.S. Department of Transportation “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery’’ (TIGER) grant.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be lead applicant. Co-applicants along with MnDOT, the county and BNSF are the Willmar City Council, and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. The grant application deadline is April 28.

The six-page memorandum establishes a public-private arrangement to share project cost, estimated at $50 million by Ryan Raske, an engineer with BNSF consultant AECOM of Minneapolis.

Of the 30 trains entering Willmar every day, about 7 to 10 could be diverted on the wye track, said Raske.

The 2.5-mile, north-south connection track would be built between BNSF’s Morris subdivision track to the northwest and the Marshall subdivision track to the southwest.

Raske said trains entering Willmar from either of the Morris or Marshall subdivisions must first enter the Willmar rail yard and disconnect and move the engines to the front of the train before continuing either northwest or southwest.

Raske said the wye would allow trains to bypass Willmar without entering the yard and reconfiguring the trains.

Other benefits, he said, would be reduced train horns at the city’s 12 crossings and reduced engine idling and emissions. Also, a proposed spur into the industrial park would be an economic development incentive.

The project also includes a 10,000-foot side track, and two highway overpasses: one at 45th Street Northwest over U.S. Highway 12 and an overpass at state Highway 40 over the connection track.

Raske said a key component for federal funding is strong support from applicants. Also, the application will need to indicate contributions from the participants.

“Any contribution is significant. It shows support for the project. The more would you show, the stronger the support,’’ said Raske.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke asked what portions would be paid by the state and federal governments.

Raske said those figures are not yet defined. But he had heard the state would be asked for $15 million and $15 million from the feds. He said BNSF’s amount is being negotiated.

Raske said the feds see many applications for metropolitan projects and a significant number of rural projects. But he said most rural projects aren’t that strong.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said his response to people who ask why the county would put money into a city project is that whatever is good for Willmar is good for the county and that the county receives a lot of taxes from Willmar.

Imdieke supported the project but wanted to see written estimates associated with benefits to BNSF, the county and city.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the concept was discussed two or three years ago but was withdrawn for a number of reasons, including the federal government’s land release process for the old airport land where the spur would be located to serve the industrial park.

“I think this is an opportunity that we have to be looking at 30-50 years down the road,’’ he said. Also, he urged applicants to “ramp up discussions’’ on contributions.

Last week the City Council’s Community Development Committee voted to recommend the city join the grant application process.

In other business, the commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to deny Duane Hultgren’s appeal of the county wetland technical evaluation panel’s decision. The panel had denied Hultgren’s after-the-fact application for digging ditches in a wetland in Colfax Township.

Hultgren, of Raymond, last month met with the board to discuss the denial and the commissioners tabled action until Tuesday’s meeting.

The issue came to light last year when the state Department of Natural Resources received a tip of a potential wetland violation on property Hultgren owns in Colfax Township. After a fly-over by the DNR and on-site viewing, the DNR determined Hultgren had dug a series of ditches that totaled 4,600 lineal feet through a partially drained lake bed known as Fish Lake. Their report said the ditches were 2½ to 3 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet wide and that excavated soil that was placed alongside the ditches ranged from 6 to 12 feet wide.

At the March 4 public hearing, Hultgren didn’t deny doing the excavation and creating what he called trenches without a permit. Hultgren also said he did nothing wrong and his trenches do not violate any wetland rules.

Voting to deny the appeal were Commissioners Madsen, Shuck, Jim Butterfield and Doug Reese. Voting to grant the appeal was Imdieke.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150