BNSF Marsh 1

BNSF Railway crews work on adding a second rail line through the La Crosse River marsh near River Valley Drive in this May 6, 2015, file photo.

A group of rail safety and environmental advocates is asking a judge to temporarily halt work on a second BNSF track through the La Crosse River marsh until the court decides whether the railroad’s permit is legal.

With help from the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates, La Crosse County Commissioner Maureen Freedland and members of the group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety sued the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in March, claiming the agency’s environmental review of the project was inadequate.

The group also challenged the DNR’s rule for implementing the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act.

Judge Scott Horne decided in May that the two-pronged challenge should be argued separately, with briefs on the first part to be filed between now and August.

BNSF contractors began building the controversial second line in April after receiving a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers allowing them to fill 7.28 acres of wetlands. The railroad expects the work — part of a larger project to add a second track along a four-mile stretch of the line through La Crosse — will be completed by September.

In a motion filed Tuesday, the plaintiffs argue that any work that takes place while the court is deciding the issue would cause “irreparable harm” to the parties involved and the general public.

No damage award could mitigate “environmental damage that is difficult to measure in monetary terms,” they argue.

“It would be difficult or impossible to undo ... once you fill in the marsh and construct the track,” said Sarah Williams, staff attorney for MEA.

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Assistant Attorney General Anthony Russomanno, who is representing the DNR, said the agency will oppose the stay.

"It is DNR’s position that the permit was properly issued and complies with the law, and that therefore a stay is not warranted," Russomanno wrote.

A BNSF representative declined to comment.

A hearing on the stay request is scheduled for June 22.

The 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 work is necessary to eliminate bottlenecks and move trains more smoothly.

Environmental and public safety activists argue it will allow BNSF to transport even more volatile crude oil from North Dakota through population centers and sensitive environmental areas along the Mississippi River.

Freedland’s petition for judicial review argues the DNR 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.

The DNR says its staff “followed the law, used good science and common sense” in approving the permit. 

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(7) comments


BNSF is eliminating single track through La Crosse. Single to double track requires switches. Most derailments happen near or around switches. Double track eliminates switches like those that are/were very close to the 2 public high schools in La Crosse so that trains move out of the city more efficiently and safely.

The oil traffic isn't going away, the railroads are bound by common carrier law to take it and I suspect there won't be a ton more trains traveling here than are already moving. The congress can try and legislate rules to make it safer, some making sense, others not even close. Inspections are a good idea. Trains get inspected at most terminals, so they are already being looked at. Detectors look at wheels, and other trouble spots so thats getting covered.

At the same time the BNSF is working for the safety of the community, the CP pushes oil trains through as well-not paying any attention to those?


Doesn't sound like your much of a fighter Pahoehoe.


It's time to get over it folks. You obviously don't like the 2nd mainline being built in the marsh but there is NOTHING you can do from here on out. You can complain all you want and file motions and lawsuits ....even howl at the moon if you will but, you are not going to change the outcome. GET OVER IT ALREADY!


Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin co sponsors legislation that would force immediate retirement or retrofitting of unsafe oil tank cars, compel removed of volatile gases from crude oil before it is loaded, and providing immediate funding to train and equip first responders to cope with an oil train disaster.
In addition to these measures, the Federal Railroad Administration needs to increase the scope and intensity of car and rail inspections, especially on hazmat routes through urban areas. Preventing derailments is the first line of defense against calamity, not pipelines, which are even more hazardous to the environment and water than trains, and whose reliance on eminent domain is increasingly rancorous politically.
Sign the attached petition urging the FRA to vigorously enforce railroad health and safety regulations. Add a comment while you're at it to counter the railroad lobbies' unrelenting trust-us-we-know-what-we're-doing cant. http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/enforce-railroad-health?source=s.fwd&r_by=1718159

Melowese Richardson

the plaintiffs argue that any work that takes place while the court is deciding the issue would cause “irreparable harm” to the parties involved and the general public.

What a crock. Anything done could be undone IF the courts were to rule against BNSF. Some people can't take getting their butt handed to them without whining incessantly. Common theme with most liberals, especially those Triblibs we see frequently posting on here.

Mr Wizard

CARS kooks at it again. Just can't take no for an answer. The judge already has said what is necessary to be granted an injunction against BNSF...............Pony up a few million dollars to ensure the railroad isn't harmed when CARS loses their case in court. It's a done deal, kooks.


Can we stop the I90 road and bridge projects for a year while we run an environmental study as to the impact of the fish and wildlife???

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