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Residents wary of being railroaded

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

(Photo)
A Rockview resident points out a problem to William Russell (seated), Union Pacific's manager of special projects design.
BENTON- Union Pacific Railroad officials will revise their plans to add a connection curve in Rockview in response to concerns voiced by the town's residents.

Meeting with about a dozen Rockview residents at Tuesday's Scott County Commission meeting were Michael W. Payette, assistant vice president of government affairs for Union Pacific's central region; William Russell, Union Pacific's manager of special project design; and Paul M. Kimball, agent for Coates Field Service which is contracted to negotiate land purchases for the railroad.

Payette opened by explaining how a connection curve to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe track at Rockview is being added by Union Pacific to allow them to run trains only in one direction along tracks, improving their efficiency.

The project will be a 30 mph connection which should "keep the trains moving quite briskly," Payette said. Many connections, he said, are only 10-20 mph.

For their part, Rockview residents are refusing to sell any land for the new track's right-of-way until their concerns are addressed, with drainage concerns being the foremost. The railroad will only need to purchase about 10 acres, including one home in which the septic tank and well are in the proposed right-of-way.

Russell said the plan as reviewed Tuesday includes replacing a box culvert with a pipe to be placed 1.5 feet lower than the box culvert and digging an entirely new ditch with an eight-foot bottom.

"I think we've done everything we could," Russell said. "The railroad is going to do the best they can to improve the outflow."

Rockview residents expressed skepticism, however. "Do you think one four-foot pipe is going to handle all this water?" asked one resident.

"Our consultant says it drains 360 acres," Russell said, but Rockview residents countered with the question "What happens if it does not work as promised?"

Some residents were even more skeptical. "The railroad is here blowing smoke," one Rockview resident said, avowing that once the railroad owns the land they want, they will no longer care about flooding from inadequate drainage.

One Rockview resident said in addition to the railroad track's berms creating "islands," railroad officials need to consider that "we have a tremendous amount of vibration that's getting even worse." He attributed the problems to the "clay-gumbo" soil and lack of a rock base. "There ain't no bottom to that land," he said.

He asked if railroad engineers knew they were putting a major project on a "jello" base. He also noted the trains are getting longer and "running harder, running faster" than they have in the past.

Another resident wanted to know if the railroad would maintain the new ditch it is building.

Other residents complained about train horns. Payette said they are required for safety reasons to use the horn near crossings. "We don't have a lot of leeway," he said, although he said he would contract the operations department to make sure train engineers aren't blowing the horn any more than required.

In the end, Union Pacific officials agreed to revise their plan to include adding a crossing gate to the BNSF crossing; putting a "hog tight" fence along the entire length of the project between landowners and tracks on the north and south sides; installing another culvert under a county road on the east end of the project; and the addition of trees for a sound barrier.

Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel said once Rockview residents are satisfied, commissioners will sign off on the county's land needed for the project.

Landowners don't need to worry about the railroad seeking to obtain the land via the courts, railroad officials assured. "We don't want to do that," Russell said. "It makes bad neighbors. We'd rather hash it out."

Russell said it would take a "couple of weeks" to revise the plan after which another meeting will be scheduled.