Minutes - February 2, 2015

Como Community Council--District 10

Land Use Committee

Monday, February 2, 2015

Street Car Station




Present: Kim Moon, Chris Harkness, Bill Sylvester, Kevin Dahm, Joao Medeiros, Frank Dolejsi, Linda Hinderscheit, Ryan Flynn and Alison Kirgis




Others Present: State Senator John Marty, State Representative John Lesch, City Councilmembers Amy Brendmoen & Russ Stark, Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, and approximately 30 community members.


Call to Order:  Kim Moon called the meeting to order at 7:15 p.m. 


Adoption of Agenda: Motion to approve the agenda with clarification on title of the Land Use Work Plan item (Flynn-Dolejsi) Passed.


Approval of Minutes: Motion: Approve the minutes of the 12/01/2014 and 01/05/2015 meetings with clarification on the spelling of Jon Medeiros’ name and attendance (Flynn-Dolejsi) Passed


Land Use 2015 Work Plan: Kim Moon had distributed a draft of the 2015 committee work plan to committee members prior to tonight's meeting. Linda Hinderscheit suggested adding an item regarding train traffic. Kim will add that to the work plan and distribute the revised plan to the committee via email.


Guest Speaker: Dave Christianson, MNDot Senior Planner for Freight & Rail, was present to discuss rail safety in light of the current increase in rail traffic due to drilling in the North Dakota Bakken oil fields.  The rail crossing on Como Avenue is one of the busiest intersections and is located in one of the most populated areas in the State of Minnesota. Two residents also provided a sign-up sheet for those interested in being on an email group list centered on safety of train transport of oil.


Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe operates the line that carries oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through our neighborhood and into Wisconsin through Prescott. Railroads were de-regulated by the federal government in the 1980s. Railroads have the right of eminent domain. The states manage grade crossing safety. Over a million barrels of oil per day come out of the Bakken (one out of seven barrels produced in the US). Only 1/5th of the Bakken has been developed to date. Production has slowed some due to the recent decrease in oil prices. Ten trains per day leave the Bakken (seven of them through Fargo). There is enough pipeline capacity for only 1/3 to 1/2 of production over the next ten years. By federal law, railroads have to accept what they are being asked to carry. Bakken crude is light and extremely volatile (a lot of vapor which has a very low flash point--can flash at -70 degrees F). The fires can take a very long time to burn out, because crude oil is a mixture of many products, including tar. Railroads themselves have been pushing for safer tanker designs. Tankers built since 2011 have some safer features. The federal government is discussing improved safety regulations for railroads and tankers. Dave Christianson was one of the lead authors of a State of Minnesota study on crossing safety. One hundred high priority crossings were identified. Forty of those, which had people with limited ability to escape easily, were identified. Nine projects and an education project were identified to upgrade safety with the initial $2 million appropriated by the Legislature. Other projects have also been identified.


Eight oil trains per day come through Como Park (7 BNSF and 1 Union Pacific). The tracks crossing Como Avenue are high quality and are inspected by the railroad at least once per week. There are no better, safe alternatives and there are no routes that divert around the Twin Cities. A grade separation has been proposed for Como Avenue, and is one of the 15 projects being considered by the Legislature. This crossing has the highest concentration of people of any crossings in Minnesota (including three schools and a senior housing facility). Emergency responder alert systems are being developed. Improvements in pipelines could reduce the oil train traffic, but this also depends on international political developments and/or increased use of fossil fuels again.


A question and answer period followed.

--It would be extraordinarily expensive to build tracks to bypass the Twin Cities, and the railroads would not have access to their facilities that are within the Twin Cities. So efforts have been put into making the lines through the Twin Cities safer.

--Emergency personnel do not feel adequately trained, and a large part of this is due to budgets. Approximately 90% of the personnel have been trained, but still feel inadequately equipped, including communication and evacuation plans.

--The evacuation zone is 1/2 mile in radius. An event causes a fire, not an explosion. Evacuation is designed to get people away from the fire and the heat.

--Ethanol traffic is approximately one train per day. Ethanol fires are easier to control.

--By April 1, 2015, the Bakken oil will go through a process (removing butane and propane gases) that will help to stabilize it before transport out of North Dakota.

--Governor Dayton is proposing increased property taxes on the railroads to help pay for some of the safety measures.

--The oil companies own the tank cars, not the railroads. Oil companies were fighting new safety standards for tank cars.

--How can residents identify what to do (evacuate in case of fire or stay in the house in case of an inhalant escape)?  This would be possible via phone or text alert if there is a system set up and a budget to fund it.

--Is there a program to buy out residential and commercial property near the tracks and create a green buffer zone? The answer was no.

--The speed of trains is considerably slower than it was in the past in the heyday of rail traffic.

--When the grade crossing on Como is being planned, community input will be invited.


Adjourn: Motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:58 p.m.


Next Meeting: The next meeting is Monday, March 2, 2015, at the Street Car Station.


Future meeting dates: 3/30, 5/4, 6/1, 6/29, 8/3, 8/31, 10/5, 11/2 & 11/30


Minutes recorded by Linda R. Hinderscheit, Committee Member

These minutes are not official until approved.



District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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