Federal board to give no warning of DM#x0026;E; decision

By Angela Greiling Keane

WASHINGTON -- The federal board reviewing the Dakota, Minnesota &; Eastern Railroad's expansion plans said Thursday it almost always favors such projects, and it will give little advance notice of its upcoming decision.

Board chairwoman Linda Morgan reiterated in a statement that the board's predilection is to approve projects involving new construction, such as the one the DM&E; has proposed. She wrote that new construction projects "are to be given the benefit of the doubt" and "there is now a presumption that rail construction projects will be approved."

Most construction cases the board reviews involve far smaller projects. It's currently reviewing 11 cases, including the DM&E's; proposal, a higher number than usual.


The $1.5 billion DM&E; project would involve building 280 miles of new track and rehabilitating 600 miles of existing track, including the section that runs across southern Minnesota and through Rochester. Rochester and Olmsted County have opposed the project with concerns over the projected increase in train traffic through Rochester and the area.

Morgan announced in December that a ruling could be expected "early next year." Early next year has now arrived, but the board has given no more indication of when exactly to expect the decision.

A board attorney advised DM&E; observers to not expect any advance notice of the decision and just to watch the board's Web site –; –; for a statement. "That's all you're going to get, I'm afraid," staff attorney Nancy Beiter said.

The board announces most decisions at 9:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, but there is no guarantee that a DM&E; ruling would come out at that time. The board only releases decisions during normal business hours, Beiter said.

The federal board is in the final stage of deciding whether the South Dakota-based railroad may proceed with a project that would allow it to extend its tracks westward to haul coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The final environmental impact study for the project was released in November; it's now up to the board members to vote it up or down and to specify mitigation measures the railroad would be required to take.

The board normally consists of three members, but it's down to two as of Jan. 1. The term of former commissioner William Clyburn Jr. expired Dec. 31, 2000, and he was allowed to serve an additional year, but no more, under federal law.

The president appoints new board members. Since the presidential appointment process is lengthy, it is unlikely a new commissioner would take his or her seat before the board votes on the DM&E; project. Morgan and Wayne Burkes, who was named vice-chairman Thursday, are the remaining commissioners.

Board members do not meet together to cast their votes. Rather, they use a system called "notational voting" in which each member casts his or her own written vote individually.

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