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Thompson urges DM#x0026;E; bypass for Rochester

By Angela Greiling Keane

agreiling@postbulletin.com

WASHINGTON -- Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson labeled Mayo Clinic "a high-profile target for potential terrorism" and called for a railroad bypass around Rochester in a recent letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board.

Thompson weighed in at the behest of Mayo officials and U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

The Dec. 20 letter is addressed to Linda Morgan, chairwoman of the Surface Transportation Board. The STB is a federal board that plans to decide early this year whether the Dakota, Minnesota &; Eastern Railroad may expand and upgrade its tracks, which run across southern Minnesota and westward to Wyoming.

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Thompson wrote that his concerns about the railroad's potential impact on Mayo Clinic are new and are in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a July incident when a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a tunnel in Baltimore.

"The proximity of Mayo facilities, including 2,000 hospital beds, to the DM&E; line creates a potential for an accidental or terrorist-caused derailment that could either damage or destroy these vital health care and research facilities, or necessitate evacuation of facilities just as they are needed to treat mass casualties," Thompson wrote.

In his letter, Thompson does not oppose the overall project. He asks only for a Rochester bypass.

As governor of Wisconsin, the office he held before joining President Bush's cabinet last year, Thompson wrote to the STB in 1998 supporting the DM&E; project.

Bruce Kelly, Washington lobbyist for the Mayo Foundation, said Mayo is pleased with Thompson's recent letter.

"The important thing about the letter from Secretary Thompson is that it indicates that the issue relating to the DM&E; Railroad is an issue that goes beyond just the railroad and addresses the fact that this is a health issue, that Mayo is a major medical center in this country," Kelly said.

An STB attorney said Tuesday that she had no record of the board receiving the Thompson letter that was dated more than three weeks earlier.

Kevin Schieffer, DM&E; president and chief executive officer, was unavailable for comment.

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