An email from Citizens Concerned About Rail Line (CCARL)announces that Minnesota Department of Transportation Charlie Zelle will appear at a public meeting about the shuttered "ZipRail Proposal and Developments" at Cannon Falls' Urland Lutheran Church on Tuesday, February 16, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m/
The parish is located at 6940 County 9 Blvd., Cannon Falls, MN 55009 (approximately 2 miles west of Hwy. 52 on County Road 9). It's not unusual for churches to be used for secular public meetings held by community groups in Greater Minnesota. We've posted a photo of the building above.
According to the email, "Citizens Concerned About Rail Line (CCARL) has been attempting to get MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle to meet with our local citizens regarding ZipRail. Sen. Matt Schmit has facilitated a public meeting with MnDOT Commissioner Zelle . . .
The format will be a "[p]ublic meeting allowing the public to speak, ask questions, and express concerns."
Cannon Falls Beacon: final TAC/CAC Ziprail meeting disappointing
The meeting announcement follows on the heels of the Cannon Falls Beacon's coverage of the final MnDot Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
In Disappointing meeting for Zip Rail opponents, the Beacon's Sandy Halder reports:
The closure of the Technical Advisory Committee and the Citizens Advisory Committee was disappointing for those who were in favor of the project, and brought uncertainty to Citizens Concerned About Rail Line (CCARL), as to how to proceed in their endeavor to shut the Zip Rail project down, now that it will be pursued by North American High Speed Rail, a private entity that plans to fund the project totally through private investment. . . .
One of the concerns is the ability of the North American High Speed Rail Group to use eminent domain. Halder reports:
A Zumbrota resident asked if [MNDOT staffer Dan] Krom could say for sure that eminent domain is not going to be used. Krom said once NAHSR legally becomes a railroad, they can get permission from the Federal Railroad Administration's Surface Transportation Board to use eminent domain.
Given that the private group has repeatedly said that fares won't cover its costs, but rather, real estate developments along the line, it's not out of order to ask how the group will acquire that real property.
Another concern was the claim that local governments along the southern parts of the line supported it, when some had passed formal resolutions against Zip Rail:
A controversial statement that was read by [Olmsted County Rail Authority consulting engineer Chuck] Michael at the TAC meeting, noted that southern communities along Highway 52 and Highway 56 were in favor of the project. [CCARL organizer Heather] Arndt responded, "That is a misleading statement, which needs to be corrected in the document." She said the communities along the two proposed southern corridors, Highways 56 and 52, were opposed to the project, being as the train would not stop to accommodate local people, and it would close off much needed east-westbound roads in the counties where the train will travel.
Later, just before the CAC meeting started, a Zumbrota Council member handed Michael a copy of a statement that Zumbrota had sent to MnDOT earlier, stating that the city was opposed to the project. Michael said he would have the consultants go back and clarify the issue. He said, "It is something we want to look at before there is conclusion.
Let's hope that this report's claim of local government support is fact-checked and corrected before it's set on that shelf and the spurious claim of "local government support" gets recycled by the private firm and its fanboys.
As for public engagement about the plans by the private project:
Krom was asked how much of MnDOT's information would be given to NAHSR. Even though the Alternative Analysis Study will be available to the public and can be picked up by NAHSR, he responded, "Our data is not of much value to them." He also noted that permits had recently been issued to NAHSR to work in MnDOT's right-of-ways. He said, "We expect the North American folks to have as an aggressive outreach as we have had. You must talk to them. I'm sure they will be open to you. I hope you stay engaged."
How much information will citizens be able to obtain about the private project, even though that project may be granted permission to unilaterally take their property? Bears watching.
Photo: The building where the meeting will take place.
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