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Zip Rail criticized — again — in Goodhue County

The Cannon Falls City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night that opposes Zip Rail being built along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor between the Twin Cities and Rochester.

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Goodhue County continues to line up in opposition to Zip Rail.

The Cannon Falls City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night that opposes Zip Rail being built along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor between the Twin Cities and Rochester. Ron Johnson, the city administrator, has also volunteered to represent the city's support for a no-build option on the Zip Rail Technical Advisory Committee.

Cannon Falls Mayor Robby Robinson says both steps are important to adequately express the city's anti-Zip Rail sentiment over fears that it would further divide that community, similar to what happened with MnDOT's new $14.3 million interchange.

"I think we need to get someone on the TAC … so we have someone able to push for that no-build (option)," Robinson said. "If we just send in a resolution and then just sit back, then we're not going to have a say in anything. If they get the right people on (the TAC), they can say build, build, build."

After approving a resolution similar to Cannon Falls last fall, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners has now directed staff to highlight conflict points with Zip Rail along the two proposed routes of U.S. 52 or Minnesota Highway 56. Lisa Hanni, the county's land-use management director, expects it will take about a week to point out all the negative impacts to local roads, rivers and property owners.

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Goodhue County commissioner Dan Rechtzigel, who has been one of the Zip Rail's most vocal critics, said Tuesday that he "really wants to kill this project." He reiterated that point Thursday in a phone interview.

"I think it is poorly thought out, an absolute waste of money with no positive return except for a few special interest groups," Rechtzigel said.

"If it were up to me, I would pass a one-sentence resolution saying get it out of here and if you don't we'll use any means necessary to prevent it from destroying our county."

Those words and actions may heighten tensions about a proposal that appears to have a very clear divide between urban and rural residents.

The Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance was created in 2008 to support Zip Rail. Members include Olmsted County, the City of Rochester, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and Mayo Clinic. They hope increased access to premier medical facilities, and expect the $6 billion Destination Medical Center to increase the demand for rail access from the metro area.

However, the past year has seen opposition rise from Dodge and Goodhue counties, Pine Island, Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, the Minnesota Farm Bureau and a local group dubbed Concerned Citizens About Rail. Township's annual meetings are scheduled for March 10, which could result in another flurry of resolutions opposing the project.

The Zip Rail debate has also proved contentious in the Minnesota Legislature, where Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and House Taxes Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, recently drafted a bill that would block funding for the controversial high-speed rail project. While it's unclear if the bill will receive enough support to move forward, those who have criticized it include Olmsted County commissioner Ken Brown, Rochester City Council president Randy Staver and Rochester DFL Rep. Kim Norton.

"(Drazkowski) can be as skeptical as he wants, but to introduce legislation like this without at least hearing where we are, without giving anybody a chance within the county to respond is unbelievable," Brown said.

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It's considered a critical year for Zip Rail, which is expected to complete the draft of its Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement this fall. If it received any recommendation other than no-build, millions in additional funding would be required to continue the planning process.

It's unclear if Zip Rail has an estimated cost yet; project manager Chuck Michael did not respond to requests for comment. Supporters of the project say private funding is available, but critics — like Cannon Falls Mayor Robby Robinson — contend that it's not economically viable and costs will fall back on taxpayers.

Related Topics: GOODHUE COUNTY
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