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BNSF postpones car lot plan

The BNSF parking lot planned for 100 acres of the 300-acre lot on county road 75 has been shelved for the time being. (Bulletin illustration)

St. Paul Park

BNSF Railway has idled its controversial car exchange facility proposal.

BNSF representatives told St. Paul Park, Grey Cloud Island, Cottage Grove, Newport and Washington County staff and officials Monday morning that they are putting plans on hold for 2017 construction of the storage lot near the St. Paul Park-Grey Cloud Island border.

BNSF contacted South Washington County Schools officials and planned to meet with them later in the week.

The railway last summer proposed a 100-acre parking lot on a 300-acre parcel in St. Paul Park, adjacent to Grey Cloud Island.

Amy McBeth, BNSF regional public affairs director, said the project has changed from the original timeline due to "current market conditions."

The project generated concern and criticism from community leaders, school officials and residents, largely due to concerns about traffic along Third Street in St. Paul Park and pollution issues.

"Everything's just going on the shelf; they're scrapping all engineering," St. Paul Park Mayor Sandi Dingle said.

Construction on the lot will not start this year, but the project is not dead. BNSF still owns the land and plans to develop it.

"When the market conditions allow, we will start construction," McBeth said.

Until they have a new project timeline, McBeth said BNSF likely will continue renting the land for farm use.

'Time to step back'

Dingle said the delay will give everyone involved time to breathe.

"It's a good thing," she said. "One of the things it will do is give people time to step back and look at what the ramifications will be."

It will also provide time to look over traffic mitigation in preparation for the estimated 130 extra semitrailers BNSF would run to and from the site each day.

"We're still going forward looking at traffic concerns," Dingle said.

The city is looking at improvements to St. Paul Park Road, which connects Third Street to Summit Avenue near the Highway 61 interchange, and would have extra time to repair that area before the BNSF truck traffic increases.

Wayne Sandberg, Washington County engineer and deputy public works director, said the change in BNSF's plans could advance pavement management on County Road 75, which runs adjacent to the proposed lot. The earliest that road project could be done is 2019, he said.

"(If BNSF were to build in 2018), I think we'd want to let them do their work and see what they're going to do," Sandberg said. "If we don't hear from them for a few years, we can't just sit and not do anything."

The new timeline is beneficial to planned construction on the Grey Cloud bridge on County Road 75.

"The restoration was going to happen anyway, but coordination was a problem, and that now is not happening, we'll have more flexibility," Sandberg said. "It's a good thing."

Some Grey Cloud residents live directly across from the proposed facility on Grey Cloud Trail.

"We're happy to have another year without it," Grey Cloud Island Town Board Chairman Rich Adams said.

McBeth said that they will still keep the feedback in mind gathered from open houses, though during the wait-and-see period they will hold off on gathering more feedback. They will be sending emails or letters to update residents who filled out contact information on feedback forms during open houses.

The BNSF plan had bothered parents of students at District 833's Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion school. The district plans to remodel the Oltman Middle School building in St. Paul Park and move Nuevas Fronteras to the building in 2018 from the space it uses at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove.

BNSF's project was announced after the district decided to move Nuevas Fronteras and following voter approval of funding for the building renovation and construction of a new Oltman Middle School in northwest Cottage Grove.

Parents are worried about truck traffic and pollution near the Oltman building in St. Paul Park. The district earlier this month approved a plan to hire a consultant to study the BNSF project's impact on the school site.

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