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Dunn County Board supports passenger rail from Eau Claire to St. Paul, MN

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  — The Dunn County Board has approved a resolution supporting the initiation of passenger rail service between West Central Wisconsin and the Twin Cities.

Representatives for the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition did a presentation for the Planning, Resources & Development Committee about passenger rail service and asked the PR&D committee for a recommendation to the county board for the county board’s support in the form of a resolution, said Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and chair of the PR&D committee, at the Dunn County Board’s March 21 meeting.

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition has been around since 1999, and the group became a 501.c3 non-profit several years ago and has formed an “organizing council.” Representatives for the coalition spoke to the PR&D committee this past November.

The group is working on a final report about self-supporting private rail for profit in West Central Wisconsin.

Passenger rail service from this part of Wisconsin to the Twin Cities “would have significant economic impact,” Quinn told the other county board members.

Traffic on Interstate 94 from Eau Claire and the Twin Cities has the fastest growth rate, said James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie.

The rate of increase in traffic “lends weight to looking at alternative transportation mechanisms,” he said.

According to information included with the resolution, reliable passenger rail service can serve to retain essential business talent and an educated workforce, promote improved quality of life through expanded employment, cultural and educational opportunities, enhance the tourism and recreational market, improve transit and other connections in the affected cities, and spur economic development,  especially in the regularly-served station areas and adjacent communities along the route.

Union Pacific Railroad, which at that time was known as the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, ended passenger service in this area in 1963 when the “400” was discontinued.

The “400” was so named because the passenger rail line covered 400 miles between Chicago and St. Paul.

The Dunn County Board voted 28 to 1 to support the initiation of passenger rail service between West Central Wisconsin and the Twin Cities.

County board supervisor Larry Bjork from Menomonie voted against the resolution.

Approval of the resolution will have no impact on the county’s 2018 budget.

Other business

In other business, the Dunn County Board:

• Confirmed the appointment of Marcie Rosas as medical examiner.

• Approved a resolution opposing Wisconsin Senate Bill 601 and Assembly Bill 713, which would remove the distinction in flood plain areas between a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) and a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) and would require counties to remove parcels or parts of parcels from  floodplain ordinance regulation if the property is subject to a LOMA. The legislation would, essentially, require counties to accept the non-technical LOMA and treat it the same as a LOMR, which requires the data submitted and hydrological analysis be performed under the direction of a licensed professional engineer or surveyor. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identifies and maps flood hazard areas across the nation by conducting flood hazard studies and publishing Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Parcels that receive LOMAs and LOMRs are not required to have flood insurance.

• Approved a request for a rezone from Intensive Agriculture to General Agriculture from James and Theresa Ruff in the Town of Grant.

• Approved a request for a rezone from Residential 2 to General Commercial from Mike Schmitz in the Town of Red Cedar.