A potential deal between the city of Little Falls and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway may mean more residential development for the northeast side of town.
City Administrator Jon Radermacher informed the City Council Monday, that talks were moving forward on a proposal that would turn back the land owned by BNSF on the east side of the Mississippi River back to the city. He said the city originally approached BNSF about turning back the property “years ago.”
Currently, there is a curve in that track that crosses Seventh Avenue Northeast and, eventually, Fifth, Fourth, Third and Second avenues before ending behind the Builders FirstSource lumber yard. The rail used to serve CentraSota Co-op, before it moved to its current location.
“We approached them about releasing that track, as it’s not been used in many years,” Radermacher said. “There’s no future use for it there because CentraSota has moved to a different site just south of the city limits. We’re hoping to get that rail released in line with the cleanup that we’ve worked with Landmark Environmental on and CentraSota themselves in preparing applications to the Department of Ag for cleanup funds. We needed to know if the rail could be removed.”
He said BNSF was originally resistant to the idea of turning back the property. However, after the city began working with U.S. Congressman Pete Stauber’s office on the project, the conversation moved forward. Radermacher said he received word during the last week in September that BNSF was, internally, open to the idea of removing the rail — with certain conditions attached.
The first condition was that BNSF would release the property up to Fifth Avenue Northeast in exchange for the city closing the crossing at Eighth Avenue Northeast.
“That one crossing — that street is served on both sides,” Radermacher said. “Seventh Avenue and Ninth Avenue have crossings, so to us that wouldn’t be a huge impact for that neighborhood — for the folks that live along (there).”
The city would also be responsible for paying fair market value to BNSF for the property. After the rail has been scrapped and any materials have been moved by the railway, the city will be responsible for turning the land back to whatever standard it has in mind.
The land is currently zoned for residential use. Radermacher said it would likely remain that way once the city takes ownership, cleans up and prepares the property for development.
“Frankly, I think this is a really good opportunity for us to get this done,” Radermacher said. “We’ve had that cleanup investigation and everything prepared there for what we would need to do. Really, the key element holding up moving beyond that point — to doing the actual cleanup and prepping the land — is knowing whether the track can be removed. That will, ultimately, be the biggest determining factor for what the land could be used as.”
Council Member Frank Gosiak asked for clarification in terms of who would be responsible if there were chemicals found in the area where the railroad had been turned back to the city.
Radermacher said the city already owns some property in the area. In examinations done during the environmental study, there were petrochemicals found on that land due to it formerly being the site of a gas station or repair shop. CentraSota owns several parcels in the area. It will be responsible for cleaning up agricultural chemicals that were identified.
Two funding sources can be used for the actual cleanup of the property. CentraSota will be likely be able to access money from the Department of Agriculture, while the city can apply for funds through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
Radermacher added that the project did not really gain any forward momentum in terms of getting the land from BNSF until Stauber’s office became involved.
“I think it’s important — and I know I’ve stated this numerous times — but Congressman Stauber’s team has been very, very helpful for us to get to this point,” said Mayor Greg Zylka. “We were running into walls until then.”
Radermacher said it has been a long process, but he is hopeful that something can get done within the next year to prepare the land for cleanup now that BNSF has tentatively agreed to turn back the property.
“As I’ve said, the speed of local government moves pretty slow, and the railroad probably moves even slower in terms of their internal workings,” he said. “But, it is very positive that we’ve heard something.”
Little Falls City Council Briefs:
In other business Monday, the Little Falls City Council:
• Heard a brief update on the city’s residential recycling contract negotiations with Bob LeMieur Rolloffs, Refuse and Recycling. City Administrator Jon Radermacher said he hopes to have a final contract ready to present to the Council for approval at its next meeting;
• Awarded a low quotation of $4,245 to Bob LeMieur Rolloffs, Refuse and Recycling for leaf and brush collection. It will be held Saturday, Oct. 23, “rain/snow or shine” and bags will be left behind;
• Confirmed the purchase of a used hockey rink from Brainerd from State of Minnesota Surplus Services in the amount of $7,025. It will replace existing infrastructure at the Lindbergh Lions Recreational Complex;
• Awarded a low bid of $4,600 to North Star Drilling of Little Falls for test drilling and $300 per hour for an estimated eight hours at the golf course;
• Awarded a quotation of $4,040 from AIM Electronics of Eden Prairie for the installation of an electric scoreboard on Field 2 at the Lindbergh Lions Recreational Complex. The funds will be reimbursed to the city from the Lindbergh Lions Club;
• Confirmed the purchase of 363 metal signposts from the State of Minnesota Surplus Services for $5,325; and
• Approved the 2022 health insurance renewal for city employees from Sourcewell with an 8.2% increase. City contributions per month will be $770 for the single plan and $1,795 for the family plan. The city will also contribute an annual total of $1,400 to a health savings account for those on the single plan and $2,800 for the family plan.
The next meeting of the Little Falls City Council is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, at Little Falls City Hall.