“Kilotons of freight are going to go by the high school every day. All it takes is one bad derailment, and the death toll will be horrific.
"They will stack the bodybags like cordwood."
Jeremy Anderson’s grisly portrait of a potential tragedy surrounding the possible rerouting of freight rail through St. Louis Park was just one of roughly four dozen viewpoints expressed Wednesday night at the as approximately 150 people came before the City Council to collectively vent about the situation unfolding in their community.
Other perceived and expressed negatives associated with the potential reroute included issues such as excessive vibration, air pollution, crashing home prices and psychological impairment. The rerouted trains would be coming from Minneapolis' Kenilworth Corridor, which could lose freight traffic altogether if a proposed regional light rail line goes through the area.
The “listening session” was the first of two consecutive nights where the council will simply let people talk and council members will listen. Both sides kept their end of the bargain, as citizens offered plenty of input and council members said barely a peep. The second session is scheduled for Thursday evening at the same location.
Before Wednesday's session, Mayor Jeff Jacobs said it is still unclear as to who will make the final decision on whether trains get rerouted through St. Louis Park or not, but added, “The council will work closely with all other parties to figure out who has final say.”
Once the 90 minutes of citizen input had come to an end, it was pretty clear that many citizens have directed their anger and frustration not toward the council, but toward Hennepin County officials.
Labeled everything from “liars” to “masters of deceit,” a large number of speakers said county officials have made promises they never intended to keep and repeatedly ignored resolutions and requests coming from the City Council.
“They didn’t just lie to St. Louis Park, they lied to the feds as well in reports they issued,” one speaker charged.
Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman acknowledged in December that a measurement mistake was made by a consulting firm hired to further analyze the Kenilworth Corridor, but the commissioner has said on several occasions that the county is committed to working with citizens—not behind closed doors.
"I'm getting emails suggesting a cover-up," Dorfman said at the time the error was made. "That's absolutely not the case."
Also taken to task Wednesday was the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as speakers said the department has “ignored facts.”
“Hennepin County and MnDOT have deliberately deceived both the city and the citizens into acting like they are listening to us,” said Thom Miller, co-chair of Safety in the Park, the grassroots organization fighting the St. Louis Park reroute.
At the end of the night, council members were implored to not “give in,” even if they appear to have little say in the reroute decision. It is unclear exactly when that decision will be made, but Dorfman has said it will need to be this year if the light rail project is to keep its current schedule—groundbreaking in 2014, completion by 2017. The light rail route—which has garnered support from many of the same people opposed to a St. Louis Park reroute—would wind through the western Twin Cities suburbs, ultimately connecting Minneapolis with Eden Prairie.