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Grassroots Group to Challenge State Rail Decision

Safety in the Park wants to see an environmental impact statement put together for the proposed St. Louis Park reroute.

A St. Louis Park grassroots group has announced plans to file an appeal to the state’s decision not to pursue an environmental study on a controversial freight rail reroute plan.

Safety in the Park co-chair Thom Miller said the appeal, which has to be filed by Aug. 1 with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, is a reaction to the community's concerns over the safety impacts of the proposal being "brushed aside." Officials have been looking at possibly rerouting freight traffic from Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor through St. Louis Park—and right past the —to make room for a proposed light rail line. A decision has not yet been made on whether to go ahead with the reroute, or to keep freight trains where they are now and bring the light rail track in next to them.

The appeal stems from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s decision earlier this month to not put together an environmental impact statement, a process that would have thoroughly examined the ramifications of the reroute. Miller said he wants to see an EIS done because so many St. Louis Park residents have voiced opposition to the reroute plan.

“For them to not go to the next step, that’s our chief concern,” Miller said.

Frank Pafko, who is the director of the Office of Environmental Stewardship at MnDOT, said an EIS is only done if a project has the potential for significant environmental impact, and he didn’t see that in this case.

“What I saw was an existing freight rail line that’s not going out of historic norms,” Pafko said. “If they were building a whole new track, that might be a different story.”

Pafko said the only real impact of an appeal at this point would be the time it takes both sides to argue in court, as activities related to the reroute proposal can continue unless a judge orders them to stop.

A more significant delay could occur if a judge overturns MnDOT’s decision and orders an EIS. Pafko said he estimates an EIS for this project would take at least a year. Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman has said the reroute question needs to be answered this year to keep light rail on schedule, but it’s not clear what impact an ongoing EIS would have on the decision.

Miller said he ultimately wants residents’ concerns to be heard, and filing an appeal would at least get them on the record. As far as whether he sees the reroute happening or not, Miller said, “I can’t speculate. It’s such a large, complex issue.”

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