BNSF’s plans to build a second set of railroad tracks through the La Crosse River marsh has cleared the first regulatory hurdle.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has granted BNSF a permit to fill 7.2 acres of the marsh and build a bridge over the river.

The project will also require approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is still considering a permit application.

State and federal lawmakers have joined with local environmental activists in calling for a comprehensive study known as an environmental impact state-ment.

But DNR water management specialist Carrie Olson said the department decided against a full EIS because her two-month review of BNSF’s permit application covered most of the same ground.

Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, a La Crosse-based group that opposes the project, vowed to continue fighting for an EIS.

“We will examine every legal remedy,” the group wrote in a statement. “We need a full, adequate environmental impact statement because we need our state’s natural resources protection agency to look at the complete picture of the most relevant, comprehensive information of how this proposed expansion will impact the health and safety of our local residents and the health of our sensitive marsh and Mississippi River ecosystem.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, criticized the DNR and Gov. Scott Walker who he said “seem determined to push this through.”

“It’s irresponsible to rush forward like this when so much is at stake,” Kind said in a statement. “The amount of oil being shipped through Wisconsin is skyrocketing, along with the risk of derailments and spills that could endanger our natural resources and local neighborhoods. Considering the train derailment outside of Dubuque, Iowa, last week that resulted in an unknown amount of ethanol spilling into the Mississippi River, it is clear that the need for proper environmental review of this planned track expansion is critical to protecting our wetlands and communities.”

Friends of the La Crosse River Marsh president Chuck Lee said he was disappointed by the decision and how the DNR arrived at it, noting the agencies failure to consider previous incursions on the marsh that have cut it in half since World War II, diminishing its capacity to hold floodwaters.

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“The DNR has the responsibility of protecting the environment, not just from Burlington Northern,” Lee said.

The DNR permit says BNSF is responsible for mitigation and restoration of the La Crosse River and marsh in the event of a derailment or spill. It does not specify a penalty if the railroad fails to meet that obligation.

The marsh work is part of a BNSF project already underway that will add about four miles of new tracks through the city of La Crosse between Farnam and Gillette streets.

The railroad has said the upgrade should ease delays at each end of what is the area’s only section of single track. Because of the location of BNSF’s North Side rail yard and its crossing of the Canadian Pacific line and the constraints of the Mississippi River and bluffs, BNSF says finding an alternative route is unrealistic.

The additional line has drawn complaints that it will mean more trains through La Crosse, increasing noise, traffic and vibrations along the track. Opponents also have raised safety concerns, as the line is known to have an increasing number of trains transporting oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana.

Under the DNR permit, work must be completed by Feb. 2018. BNSF will need DNR approval for any alterations of the submitted plans.

BNSF will also be required to contribute $633,600 into a DNR wetland mitigation program. That money will then be available to create 10.56 acres of wetlands in the Black Root basin, a 10-county region of western Wisconsin.

Olson said those credits would likely be put up for bids in the next three years.

More than 150 people attended a January hearing hosted by the DNR, where 48 people spoke out, most expressing concern about local resources and public safety in regards to increased traffic of volatile crude oil on the rails.

The Corps decided against having a public hearing on the BNSF permit.

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(25) comments

jayco man

Thank God you educated people were not around when the interstate was built, or it would of never been built. Lacrosse grow up and let progress move forward.


Why do I get the feeling that even if an evironmently study came back that said there would be no significant changes to the marsh due to the added rail, CARS would find something else to complain about

Melowese Richardson

No. That would never happen, really. ;-)


rite on shameless


"The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey should be required reading for every citizen, young and old, in Wisconsin, particularly the La Crosse region. If our "elected leaders" won't do the right thing, we have other options. "Unintended Consequences" by John Ross is another good one.

living the dream

is that a marsh home... trib? your head.line does not match the pic... inmagine that!!!! does warren buffet own this railroad?


Yes, having a second line will help. When westbound trains have to wait 9 miles away near Goose Island while an eastbound train pulls through Grand Crossing it adds time. The single track north of Trempealeau? Getting double tracked this year. Don't worry...nothing to fill in there. There is already a siding they can convert and a road next to the tracks to lay rail on. People get over it...the second line is coming through. Its funny, when this topic first came up (2nd track) there wasn't a peep on here about the marsh. All the whining was about the oil and noise and vibration study. Now that the city agreed to the track NOW there is a problem filling in the marsh. I don't think the marsh is going to miss 7acres. Mach, maybe if you typed in all caps someone will listen to the garbage you spew. Maybe if you try putting it "ROLLING BOMBS ROCKETING THROUGH YOUR BACKYARD TURNING EVERYTHING YOU LOVE INTO A FIERY INFERNO! ITS 1ST DEGREE ATTEMPTED HOMICIDE AND EVERYBODY KNOWS IT! THE PRESIDENT OF THE USA NEEDS TO BRING UP THE NATIONAL GUARD RIGHT NOW!" you might get the attention you crave.


There is still only ONE TRACK each way thru Grand Crossing. So if a CP train is going thru, BMSF will have to wait, whether there is one track or four south of the rail yard.

So their complaints about "delays" are misplaced and disingenuous. If they want to ease delays, they should replace Grand Clusterf*** with a bridge.


Several serious derailments locally over the past year; ten or more major rail fires nationally over the past several years...

Running that volatile Bakken stuff at high speed through La Crosse is gross criminal negligence. BNSF knows it, Canadian Pacific knows it, the Feds know it, state, county and city officials know it.

Gross criminal negligence!

Canada Oil Train Explosion Lac Megantic Full HD


Melowese Richardson

"at high speed through La Crosse" Now that's funny.

The ever present fear mongering MachFang strikes again.


BNSF and the Tribune continue to report that this is the only single line stretch of rail in the whole area. What about BNSF's several mile stretch north of Trempealeau on this same line? Will BNSF next want to fill in the recreation and wildlife habitat area there next? BNSF convieniently leaves out information to make their case!!


These people doing all the complaining did not know that the RR was there when they bought their property. Those tracks have been there for close to a hundred years or more, did you happen to notice that. Grow up pep[le.

Condor Kid

We need and environmental impact study here. The marsh is too important to put at risk.


Walker's DNR approves destructive "development". What'd it take a minute and half? Crony capitalism at it's best.


You said it the best. It is Walkers DNR. He toke most of the power the DNR had. And in a very short time he'll have all of it. The one organization that should never be run by politicians is being over run by them so they have the power. Has anyone ever noticed that politicians are consolidating all the power they can get


nasty, it is also the spawning place for many game fish, walleye and northern. it is a place for sediment to settle during floods keeping the river and gulf cleaner. it's plants take up and use up excess nutrients. it is a nesting place for waterfowl to hatch and raise their young. it is filled with life, a vibrant remnant of nature in the midst of our city. it is a treasure to protect and preserve.


nasty smell you are ignorant to the fact that millions of migratory birds use this area it's also home to tons of amphibians and reptiles frogs are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and snakes eat tons of rodents who carry tons of diseases does the black plague mean anything to you if not well society would probably be better off without you


I don't know what the big deal with this swamp is all about. It is a mosquito breeding habitat with muddy water from farm runoff. The only thing good that it does is to serve as a place for water to expand out to when the river is flooding. A few spandex kayakers use it for a boating (can't get a powerboat in there), but it is not a fishing hot spot (unless you like carp).
Does anybody have a real use for this backwater besides something to complain about?


"The only thing good that it does is to serve as a place for water to expand out to when the river is flooding." -That should be reason enough to leave it alone.

Buggs Raplin

I would not trust the DNR on anything. The DNR endorsed the north/south corridor plan 5B1; the DNR cares more about the desires of the elite, than the environment. We must protect the marsh from the DNR.-Chip DeNure aka Buggs Raplin


yes here comes the bypass


Sadly, under Walker and his ridiculous excuse for a DNR secretary, the once highly respected DNR has become nothing more than a toady for business, a fig leaf for its exploitation and abuse of o ur natural resources.

living the dream

lovin' it... happy valentines day


This is great! I'm very glad to see that this will finally come to fruition. This is good for La Crosse and the area. Now, if we could get more passenger train service that would be even better.


I'm all for businesses but this is a bad call by the DNR..........

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