Documents sent to Bluestem Prairie shed new light on the strategies used by a corporation and its allies as they attempt to squash foes and win friends in a bid to bill a high-speed rail line between Rochester and the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
After checking out Data practices request document: North American High Speed Rail Group's business plan, a reader forwarded additional documents related to the project via a Citizens Concerned About Rail Lines (CCARL) activist. (CCARL activists are concerned about the effects of the high speed bullet train--which would not stop in their communities--on their property, safety and quality-of-life).
We post the two documents below, which were obtained via a data practices request made by the third-party, which wished to remain anonymous.
The first document is a fascinating set of emails and memos offering a glimpse of how a private interest works with county-level officials to frame talking points about their project while cutting off citizen opposition and legislative concerns.
The second is a bid to "transition," or transfer work done for the public "Ziprail" project over to the private company, an interesting sort of wealth transfer.
Lots of gems in both. For example, one of the private corporation's chief "influencers" didn't register to lobby for the association until months after much of the persuasion took place. We're sure there's some logical loophole that allowed NAHSR's strategic communications director contact legislators and local officials prior to registering with the public disclosure board.
County consultant: CCARL, or one is the loneliest number
Perhaps more interesting? An email from the Olmsted County Regional Railroad consulting engineer to county board members that severely understates the number of CCARL members at two meetings on June 25, then using the inaccurate number to dismiss the grassroots group to the county commissioners.
Minutes of the June 25, 2015 Technical Advisory Committee Meeting #7 and the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) Meeting #1 reveal a different story that that shared in consulting engineer Chuck Michael's email. The disparity between the consultant's dismissive figure and the actual numbers tend to support the activists' contention that the public is being railroaded by a private special interest.
From: Chuck Michael [email address redacted]
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2015 9:33 AM
To: Brown Ken; Devlin Richard; Wilson Paul; Kiscaden Sheila
Subject: Zip Rail TAC and CAC
On Thursday, June 25 we held meetings in Rosemount at DCTC for both the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and Community Advisory Committee (CAC). This was meeting No. 7 for the TAC, and the first meeting for the CAC.
Membership lists for each are attached. We recently added several cities to the TAC (including Byron, Pine Island, Wanamingo, Cannon Falls and Zumbrota) and many attended. ROCOG attended via conference call.
Both meetings went extremely well from our perspective. Both were well attended and provided for excellent dialogue between the committee members and the project team, clearing up numerous misperceptions, rumors,and disinformation. . . .
A citizen’s group opposed to the project, Citizens Concerned About Rail Line (CCARL) are members of the TAC and advertised both meetings, asking that all their members attend to support their cause. Only one showed up. In fact,other than a MnDOT communications person and two from CARB, no one else attended. . . .
Here's a screenshot of the attendee listed in the minutes for the TAC (online here):
Two CCARL members (Heather Arndt and Nora Felton) who are part of the TAC, attended, as did Don Evanson, a CCARL member and property rights activist from Winona.
The minutes (online here) for the CAC reveal even more CCARL members in the room:
Four members of CCARL--including two who serve on the TAC--were in the room. Former state representative Bill Kuisle was a substitute for Norma Monroe. Monroe is a CCARL's member who recently spoke to business people in Kenyon about the project:
If there's one thing Bluestem thinks technical staff like engineers should be able to do, it's count. Three CCARL members attended one afternoon meeting, while four (and a substitute for another) were at the evening meeting. Those five people do not equal "one."
The June 25 meetings were held in Rosemount, rather than in the Rochester area.
CCARL's last meeting drew over 50 people in Zumbrota, the Cannon Falls Beacon reported on November 12. The next meeting of CCARL will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 3 at the Cannon Falls High School auditorium.
According to the "transition" document embedded below, the NAHSR group asked to keep Michael on as the project moved from being the public Ziprail project to the private bullet train. Perhaps they approve of his dismissal of citizens via addition errors.
Fundraising and letters of transition
The "document dump" also shows in a June 5 document that NAHSR's CEO Joseph Sperber was irritated at the Dayton administration's pace at signing off on "current legislation," and releasing a letter, as he as in China looking for investors:
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the North American High Speed Rail Group (NAHSR) are drafting a letter on behalf of Transportation Commissioner Zelle, which will be released once the Governor signs off on current legislation. Joe Sperber of NAHSR has been meeting with investors in China this past week, and was not happy that the letter had not been released in advance. We are not certain of the effect, if any, this may have on the outcomes of the meetings. . . .
At the end of July, Post Bulletin political reporter Heather Carlson wrote in Private company seeks exclusive rights for high-speed rail:
. . .The most recent draft of a letter discussing MnDOT's possible agreement with the rail group states that the company requested the exclusive rights as it "evaluates the feasibility of its project" and states that MnDOT "will refrain from developing a lease of this corridor for passenger rail with other parties." . . .
MnDOT is in the midst of a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement of the high-speed rail corridor, known as the Zip Rail project. Meadley has said that while the proposed elevated rail line would be along the same corridor as the proposed Zip Rail line, the project would be very different. If the project moves ahead, the group plans to change the name of the rail line.
MnDOT and the rail group are also working on a Memorandum of Understanding that would designate the rail group as the sole entity authorized to study, design, build and operate the proposed rail line.
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said neither the letter nor the memo have been signed and both are being evaluated by the department. . . .
Gov. Mark Dayton has not met with representatives of the North American High Speed Rail Group, according to governor's office spokeswoman Cambray Crozier.
Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown said he has not seen the letter or memo but he was told the rail group was working with MnDOT and the governor's office. . . .
We used to call this "counting one's chickens before they're hatched.
The NAHSR group's business plan is embedded here. The group also claims that it is in negotiation for a deal with the holder of the Nevada High Speed Rail Authority to build a Southern California-to-Vegas bullet train. We investigated that claim in an earlier post, Nevada High Speed Rail Authority documents do not reveal any tracks from Minnesota HSR firm.
Here's the collection of emails that were obtained by a third party and forwarded to Bluestem Prairie by a CCARL activist:
Here's the NAHSR transition request:
We'll be pulling out more from the files and taking a look.
Image: The snowpiercer (top) We'll continue to push our way through the fog of the concept development; Simpsons angry peasants (middle); various screenshots of documents.
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