Negotiations to abandon a Union Pacific spur line fell $100,000 short of resolution Thursday.
“Get out your checkbooks,” responded Coeur d’Alene School District’s Dave Teater at the meeting’s end.
He was responding to a highway district commissioner’s concern that load limits might be necessary on a Seltice Way bridge unless a deal is struck. But the comment was meant for all of the government entities joining efforts to see a little-used Coeur d’Alene spur line abandoned.
Abandonment would save taxpayers the cost of building pricey railroad crossings along the dilapidated line - but also reroute a train through a proposed 650-acre subdivision at night.
To abandon the Coeur d’Alene line, Union Pacific maintains it must build a connection near Post Falls. There, its cars could switch onto the Burlington Northern line, which serves the same lumber mills. The cost of buying land and building a connection is estimated at $630,000.
Thursday, Union Pacific offered $200,000 toward the agreement. Meanwhile, the city of Coeur d’Alene has budgeted $30,000, the Post Falls Highway District pledged $50,000, the Idaho Transportation Department hinted $100,000 was available, and the Coeur d’Alene School District has promised $150,000.
But if somebody doesn’t ratchet up $100,000 more, taxpayers instead may be forced to pay millions to upgrade the nine crossings along the spur line if it remains in operation.
“I was hoping more people would come to the table with more money than in the past,” said George Sturm, Union Pacific Director of Joint Facilities.
The dispute began about a year ago, when the school district started building its new middle school off Kathleen Avenue. The school is adjacent to a little-used spur line that Union Pacific has considered abandoning. If the line is not abandoned, the district must buy an expensive crossing signal before the school can open.
Thursday, Burlington Northern reiterated its willingness to enter into a fee-based hauling agreement with Union Pacific, similar to joint agreements between Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, and Plummer and Spokane.
But even if Union Pacific agreed to pay Burlington Northern to operate on its track, UP maintains it still needs the connection, for fast service to the mills in case of emergencies, such as a derailment on the Burlington Northern main line.
Representatives from Crown Pacific and Idaho Forest Industries made clear Thursday that they want continued service from both companies - for many years to come.
“If there is a problem with one railroad, we need to have a fallback,” said Paul Hakala, vice president of production at Idaho Forest Industries.
Central Premix weighed in on the side of abandonment, fearing load limits on the deteriorating bridge over the tracks on Seltice Way would hurt trucking.
If the line is abandoned, the bridge must not be repaired. Jack Beebe of Beebe McKernan & McCarty said the owner of 72 acres of real estate along Northwest Boulevard also has expressed an interest in abandonment of the spur line, which could add value to the property.
But Jason Wheaton of Greenstone Corp., the Spokane development company that owns the land needed for a connection, said taxpayer money is going to waste.
Wheaton said he wants to know exactly what the financial impact on the lumber mills would be if only one train offered service. The impact of a night train through Greenstone’s proposed development would be detrimental, he said.
If the groups reach a solution, it must happen soon. Teater said the school district intends to begin the first steps toward purchasing expensive signal equipment this week.
“We are going to act as if this is going to fall apart,” Teater said.
If there’s no agreement by December, the district will make the final purchase and pull its $150,000 from the abandonment effort.
“We are close enough that we hate to see the project fall apart,” said UP Special Projects Manager Kurt Anderson. “It looks like we are $100,000 short, but we are going to work to fill that gap.”
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