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Olmsted board backs fight against DM#x0026;E

County wants railroad to pay for noise mitigation

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.com

Olmsted County Board members will try again to mitigate local impact of a planned Dakota, Minnesota &; Eastern Railroad expansion.

The board members voted unanimously at their meeting Tuesday to challenge a federal report that discounts local concerns. Their challenge, which must be filed by June 6 with the federal Surface Transportation Board,implores officials to re-examine the expansion.

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Olmsted County has spent years challenging the DM&E; expansion.The project would upgrade the railroad's entire 600-mile main line, which runs from South Dakota through Rochester on to Winona.

The project would also extend DM&E; rails 260 miles west, allowing the railroad to haul Wyoming coal and other commodities.

Olmsted County officially challenged the $2 billion project in 2002, five years after it was announced. County leaders now are asking federal regulators to order DM&E; to pay for noise-mitigation measures, such as home insulation or sound walls along the tracks.

Phil Wheeler, the county's planning director, said about 1,100 homes and 200 businesses would hear increased horn noise from trains running along the new rails.

He said the county's challenge will note that while it could cost $4.5 million to insulate homes from the noise, unprotected properties would drop $7.6 million in value. The challenge also will note that sound walls are another, cheaper option.

County Attorney Ray Schmitz said board members, however, face an uphill battle with their request. He said federal regulators are reluctant to order any mitigation because the resulting deal could be better than what other communities along the line received.

Schmitz said the regulators are like company directors reluctant to give one employee a $1-per-hour raise. Using the regulators' logic, he said, the raise is denied because other employees then would want a raise.

After all the comments are received June 6, federal regulators will review them and produce a final report. At that point, it will be up to project opponents to decide whether to mount another legal appeal.

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