Sarai Brenner testified about her concerns with freight rail running through the Kenilworth Corridor. Credit: Ellen Schmidt

Sarai Brenner testified about her concerns with freight rail running through the Kenilworth Corridor. Credit: Ellen Schmidt

Concerns about hazardous materials in light rail corridor raised

Updated: June 24, 2015 - 9:42 am

Questions come up at third public hearing on a SWLRT environmental report

LOWRY HILL ­— Neighbors of the Kenilworth Corridor aired concerns about tanker trains hauling hazardous material alongside the Southwest Light Rail line both during and after construction at a public hearing at Dunwoody College of Technology Thursday evening.

A panel of Metropolitan Council members heard from several residents who said they lived within the “blast zone,” the area within one-quarter mile of the freight rail tracks where homes and people are most at risk should a train derail and explode. The phrase pops up often in the national debate over moving crude oil by rail, and although the trains that run the Kenilworth don’t haul crude, they do regularly transport ethanol past homes, a school and parkland.

“Frankly, we’re pretty freaked out about it,” Shawn Smith, a Kenwood resident, said.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL–61A) said the risks posed by those ethanol tankers were “glossed over” in the report. All trains hauling hazardous materials should be rerouted out of the Kenilworth Corridor during light rail construction “at a minimum,” Hornstein said, adding that there must be more planning for an emergency response.

Other Minneapolis residents raised concerns about noise, vibrations and contaminated soils during the third of three scheduled public hearings on a Southwest Light Rail Transit environmental report released in May. An inch thick in paper form, the report was a supplement to the 1,000-page SWLRT draft environmental impact statement released in the fall 2012 and covers changes made to the project since then.

Those changes include digging a tunnel for light rail trains through the southern half of the Kenilworth Corridor so that existing freight rail tracks won’t have to be rerouted, a solution Minneapolis officials only reluctantly agreed to in 2014.

The tunnel will be dug within feet of the Calhoun-Isles Condominiums building, a former grain silo converted into a 10-story residential tower. At least three people who identified themselves as residents testified, and all expressed concerns about the potential for pile driving and other construction activities to cause serious damage to their building.

Kenwood resident Jeanette Colby said the report took a flawed approach to estimating the impact of noise and vibration on nearby residents once SWLRT is up-and-running. During peak period, trains will run every 10 minutes in both directions.

Colby said the report measured the increase in noise and vibration impacts against a rail corridor with an operating freight train. But that train was supposed to move, so the better comparison would be against no train at all, she said.

“What we’re doing now is we’re taking a temporary situation that was supposed to go away and making it permanent,” Colby said.

Richard Adair of Bryn Mawr was one of a few speakers whose comments focused on the environmental hazards of not building SWLRT. Extending the Green Line already running between St. Paul and Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is expected to take eliminate thousands of motor vehicle trips.

Other changes addressed in the supplemental DEIS include the decision to site an operations and maintenance facility in Hopkins and a slight shift in the 16-mile line’s route through Eden Prairie.

It’s seeming less likely SWLRT will actually run a full 16 miles, though, as local leaders attempt to carve $341 million from its nearly $2 billion budget. Recent discussions have focused on eliminating one or two stations in Eden Prairie.

Before the meeting, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said it would be “unfortunate if we have to cut a station or two in Eden Prairie,” but added that he saw a “consensus starting to emerge” among stakeholders.

“If we’re able to find both the $341 million in reductions and still keep the (estimated weekday) ridership at about 30,000 or 31,000, I think you’ll see people rally around that,” Duininck said.