Rail Work

BNSF crews work along Forest Hills Golf Course Tuesday. 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.

A group of concerned citizens is challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ decision to allow BNSF Railroad to build a second set of tracks through the La Crosse River marsh.

With help from the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates, members of the group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety filed a petition for judicial review in La Crosse County Circuit Court asking a judge to block a wetland permit and to require the DNR to complete a more thorough environmental review of the project.

The DNR last month granted BNSF a permit to fill 7.2 acres of the marsh and build a bridge over the river as part of a plans to add about four miles of new tracks through the city of La Crosse between Farnam and Gillette streets.

At the root of their concerns are the growing number of trains hauling highly explosive crude oil from North Dakota, such as the 105-car train that derailed last Thursday near Galena, Ill., causing at least five cars to burst into flames.

That fire continued to burn until Sunday morning, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the response and monitoring the nearby Galena and Mississippi rivers for potential contamination.

“The marsh project being considered is one of a series of projects intended to facilitate even more traffic flow,” said Ralph Knudson, one of the petitioners. “An Environmental Impact Statement would compel a thorough look at all aspects of construction and operation of rail lines for opportunities to minimize risk and protect the marsh environment and public assets.”

The DNR declined to comment Monday on the petition.

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

But Sarah Williams, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said that does not comply with the state’s Environmental Policy Act.

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The petition says the agency did not take into account the environmental and public safety risks associated with the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials, the disturbance to neighbors from increased train traffic and the incremental impact of continuing to fill in the marsh, which has been reduced over the years to about half its original size.

It also questions the transparency of the review process.

Knudson wondered whether anyone would have known about a Jan. 7 public hearing — attended by more than 150 people — had CARS not publicized it.

While the DNR posted a legal notice of the meeting, the agency did not send out a press release.

“Our strategy here is just to really have our public service agencies — in this case the DNR — be as accountable as possible for what their mission is and to be as open as possible about their process,” he said.

BNSF’s La Crosse project is one of 13 planned upgrades the railroad is making to its route along the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities and the Illinois border.

BNSF says the La Crosse upgrade will ease delays at each end of what is the area’s only section of single track. Opponents say it will lead to increased train traffic, a position supported by the railroad’s permit applications.

The marsh project is still awaiting a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is still considering BNSF’s application. State and federal lawmakers have joined the call for a comprehensive study known as an Environmental Impact Statement.

The citizens also petitioned the DNR for an internal review of the permitting process. In each case, the DNR and BNSF will now have an opportunity to respond before any ruling.

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(39) comments


Anyone else find it odd that just as Liberals started screaming about safety of trains transporting oil, those exact types of trains started to mysteriously derail in record numbers? That is about as mysterious as the Global Warming Liberals like Al Gore who attack Oil, Coal and Nuclear...then, being the hypocrites that they are, drive around in SUV's fueled by Oil, Fly in Private Planes (not commercial passenger planes), live in mansions powered by Coal/Nuclear power and use more energy to heat their pools than the average person uses in total!

Must be terrible to live in a world where the sky is falling, the earth is just days away from bursting into flames due to Global Warming, and every business is out to get them by doing crazy things like BNSF transporting the fuel and products they all purchase to evil places like Walmart that allows the average person to be able to purchase the things they want and need at an affordable price!


Kronosaurus - funny that the ones drinking the ideological kool-aid are always the ones accusing others of being that way. Ever notice that the same handful of people are the ones that protest everything? Wouldn't be surprised if you were against the North South Corridor, against the renovation of downtown La Crosse with evil things like hotels and buildings filled with new jobs, against renovating Copeland Park with a baseball stadium (not because you disliked baseball or that you couldn't see how run down that ballpark had become, but because it was a conservative Republican that was behind it).......


How about some petition signing in town before the army corps makes its decision??? We would gladly sign a petition!!!!! Also there are petitions on line at move on.org and care2.The Care 2 petition has over 50,000 signatures.!!!


I believe it was in the 70s that there was a vast increase in train accidents carrying volatile materials. The train cars had to be upgraded to carry these chemicals and there was a huge decrease in these accidents. It is irresponsible to allow the volatile Bakken oil to continue to be transferred in these unsafe cars-irresponsible of BNSF,the companies that make the tankers,Bakken oil and the government of the states and the federal government. Living along a track never used to be the issue it is now. This situation has created fear and put people in possible harms way--enough is enough. Time for a change by the oil industry. Even the city sold out, I am sure being that there was never any proof as to who owned the land the golf course is on etc we could have at least held out for slower speeds etc. Money talks!!!! Also there needs to be ongoing rail inspections and track infrastructure repair to keep things safe.


I'm a big supporter of both the Oil&Gas Production companies as well as the railroads as they are economic drivers for Local, State and Federal economies. That said, I do have huge concerns surrounding the transportation of BAKKEN crude. Typically the Bakken formation contains a very high percentages of miscible gases...these gases are very volatile and can be problematic to deal with. I would like to see the railroad and the producers sign an agreement that no Bakken crude will be transported unless it is transported in the new generation tanker cars. I wish the tracks themselves didn't run through residential neighborhoods, but they do. I have litgitimate concerns about the proximity of private residents and neighborhoods potentially being in harms way...I also have concerns about crude spilling in the river due to a failure of the track bed...which has to deal with the higher weights and increases traffic volumes, etc.


BNSF is a business. It doesn't care about the environment, how it affects citizens or even safety unless it affects the profit margin. Be clear--the ONLY motivation of any publicly held company is money.



First base

Think about this. Why is it that lately it seems the most frequent trains to derail have been oil. The question should be is it the design of the tanker? The length of the train? the speed? The rails? It is not the oil that is causing the problem. It is the way it is shipped.


Bozo, the oil from Canada is sent to a refinery in Texas and then shipped OVERSEAS. So the comparison I am drawing is oil that does nothing for our economy vs oil that blows up. IF the North Dakota explosive oil were piped to Texas, I would consider it better than just helping the Canadians get rich.

The Giver

Oil is a worldwide commodity. Anything that puts more oil on the market, cheaper helps the consumer.


At what price "The Giver" at what price?

Old Bowhunter

It wouldn't surprise me if we were to find out that ecoterrorists are sabotaging the tracks to stop the oil trains. These people will stop at nothing to impose their will on the rest of us!


It'll probably be a rightwinger, a Tim McVeigh or some hyperconservative religious fundies, like ISIS. Terrorism from the left is as rare as a three-dollar bill.


Wow, watch right-wing propaganda much? It wouldn't surprise me if BNSF set up a false flag operation too in order to smear the dissent but I don't go insinuating that because it's just not relevant unless I have facts to back me up.


How sad that you live in such fear, consumed by paranoia.


hahaha. Just no.


I just can’t believe that trains would be on the train tracks. If you buy a house near the railroad tracks there’s going be trains going down the tracks, If you buy a house near a highway there’s going to be traffic including trucks, If you buy a house near a river or low lands you’re going to get flood waters in your basement, If you buy a house near an airport chances are airplanes will be taking off and landing near your house, If you buy a house out in the country you will have dairy air in and around your house, get over it, be responsible for where you decided to buy your house!! No one forced anyone to buy a house at a particular area, if you don’t like trains don’t live near the tracks, if you don’t like traffic don’t buy a house near a highway, if you don’t want your house flooded don’t buy one in the flood plain, if you don’t like airplanes flying over your house don’t buy a house near an airport, if you don’t like the smell of pigs, cows, chickens, etc don’t buy a house out in the country.
People need to stop being so stupid traffic is going to increase on highways, airports, and trains will become longer and more of them as population increases!!! A little common sense and personal reasonability goes a long way!!!!

Mr Wizard

Taxpayer, remember you're talking lefties here. They have no common sense or sense of personal responsibility. Thank God railroads are regulated by the Feds, or every little burg along the track could dictate what it takes to get a train through their town. I think everything built within a mile of the track should be removed. That would take care of just about all of Lovely Lively.


LaX: "f you buy a house near the railroad tracks there’s going be trains going down the tracks,"

Show where most La Crosse homeowners living today near the tracks were informed that thousands of megablast Bakken bomb trains were due to barrel past their house at high speed.

Aren't you being just a wee bit unreasonable here? It is unreasonable to send these bomb trains through densely-populated areas too.


So when folks buy and sell houses along the tracks now, or in La Crosse in eneral, should we assume they are going to go to three lanes and triple in frquency and start blowing their horns? There is a vast amount of uncertainty and people are reasonable to be mad and fight this. They may lose, but they are certainly reasonable. This is not a personal responsibility issue. Your ideology is clouding your mind. I'm willing to be that if we expanded the street and increasd the speed and traffic low in front of your house you would object to it. Or does your ethic of personal responsibility require you to roll over like a compliant dog?


There are no environmental whackos or whatnot here. These are just concerned citizens turning up the heat on the railroad because if there is n heat they will just roll on through with no safety in mind and no speed limits. Just as many don't trust the government, believe it r not, many do not trust the benevolence of railroad companies to give a care about or safety and well being. Large corporations prove time and time again that if there is no leverage they will rob you blind and show no concern for safety. Wake up and spread your mistrust a little more widely than the government.


Well said taxpayer...


WE need to build for our future. Rail service is important for the future of LX. Get your head out of the sand.




As a person with a background in preparing NEPA documents, does anyone know specifically what an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is? Do people know what requirements the railroad would need to meet with this document? Is there a realization that if the RR meets the guidance set by federal/state law that it is all they need to do? The RRs have enough power from old laws from the 1800's that they might even be exempt from many state rules. If the DNR review covered items required in an EIS the case gets thrown. It's understandable people are frustrated but I would be very surprised to see a different outcome than today.


Re: "Kind and Baldwin also called for lower speed limits and enhanced braking on trains carrying flammable materials and for increased transparency about the shipment of oil."

...should consult trained scientists and engineers also to get the speeds right. Fifteen miles per hour is probably the appropriate speed for bomb trains in cities. Five derailments in the news over the past five weeks should tell you that the railroads are stumped by this critical safety problem. BNSF, in particular, seems confused about just what to do. Their main focus is public relations, not the critical engineering questions that involve safety.

Incendie à Lac-Mégantic



The Galena train could very well have blown up just feet from a La Crosse resident's home, work place or school. La Crosse needs to hold regular and realistic emergency drills - preferably in the middle of the night when the temp is below freezing - blocking off whole neighborhoods and forcing people from their homes with no notice. Minus the inferno, pollution, and loss of property and life, this would be a realistic drill for a credible threat. Pipeline or oil train doesn't matter. This poison has to stay IN THE GROUND for our planet to have any hope of survival into the next century. Arguing about what kind of system is carrying the stuff is like arguing about how thick are the balloons drug mules must swallow. Read, "Leave fossil fuels buried to prevent climate change, study urges." at theguardian.com.


You environmentalist wackos come up with a viable alternative solution is less than a decade, and we may listen to you.


Did the train that blew up in Galena pass along these tracks, just feet from peoples' bedrooms?


The railroad tracks were there long before the bedrooms were!!!!!!!


The pipeline is for oil from Canada, the trains (that are blowing up) are from North Dakota. Try to keep them separate when offering choices. The Canadian oil doesn't help the USA one bit and the oil from North Dakota are rolling bombs, even the "new safe" tankers.

random annoying bozo

so your saying Canadian crude oil is safer than American crude oil?

and your saying Canadian oil doesn't help America one bit, even though Canada is the biggest exporter of oil for use in America?

gee, who knew?


The Canadian oil is not the same as the Bakken oil, no.... and, Keystone, even if in operation this very day, wouldn't do all that much to supplant the Bakken train traffic. Worse, pipelines are subject to spills and terrorist attacks too.

"Forget Canada’s oil sands, turn to Bakken"

"But there’s more to Bakken’s advantage: “The Bakken region benefits from its higher quality (light oil) product, lower rail costs with access to Brent pricing "



We can thank the environmental organizations whose war on America’s energy sector has been going on now since the 1970s. It is their anti-coal, anti-oil, and anti-nuclear campaigns that will leave America at a economic standstill and in the dark if they are not reversed.

Tim Russell

LOL. We are producing record amounts of oil on an annual basis & are burning more coal than in the 1970's. You have been telling us this for 50 years. When is it going to come to pass? 2070's?


Either let them build a safer pipeline or expect them to expand tracks. Make the choice.


Of course there are ONLY two choices, right? What a fool.


There is a fool born every minute. Seems to be a lot of them right now.


Hey, Good luck on that. Let me know how that works out for you

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