Heather Arndt, spokesperson for Citizens Concerned About Zip Rail (CCARL), told the crowd that gathered at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School on March 3 that it was a feather in their collective hat that MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle had come to Urland Church in February to hear what they had to say. She said it doesn't happen often that he makes an appearance when there is a contested project.
However, she also said she was disappointed that many of their questions remained unanswered, and at the end of the meeting she lost her temper, because the concerns and questions of those in attendance warranted the respect of getting real answers, which did not happen.
Channel 6 TV station out of Austin and Albert Lea ran a story about the Zip Rail project after the Zelle meeting. An audience member said Olmsted County Administrator Richard Devlin was featured on the program, and he said Mayo Clinic must get involved and weigh-in on the Zip Rail project.
Both Arndt and anti- Zip Rail activist Nora Felton said that statement was disingenuous. Arndt noted that Mayo created the Facebook page for the Zip Rail project. She admitted that Mayo has backed off from its initial involvement, and no one knows why. But Felton pointed out that Nora O'Sullivan, Marketing Consultant for Mayo Clinic, and Tim Geisler, who had been involved as their representative on the Southeastern MN Rail Alliance before retiring, have sent out e-mails that prove Mayo was/is still involved with the project.
Arndt stressed that everyone should take advantage of MnDOT's offer to allow the public to comment about the Zip Rail project. She said, "This is an opportunity that came along because MnDOT felt it had to do it, and that is because we are a force to be reckoned with. This gives us a chance to put on record what we think about the project, and to counter what was untruthfully reported in the alternative analysis report that Southeastern Minnesota communities were in favor of the project."
Arndt pointed out that on MnDOT's draft alternative analysis report from February 2015 mentioned repeatedly that use of the Highway 52 route for high speed rail is inconsistent with State plans. It also mentioned that after Byron and Kasson learned that Highway 56 may be the chosen corridor between the Cities and Rochester, both made it clear they preferred the route not to go through their towns.
There were many edited comments and recommended changes in the February 2015 alternative analysis report. There were notes that said to strike out certain things, but the comments about Highway 52 and Highway 56 were not marked to be changed. After North American High Speed Rail expressed interest in taking over the Zip Rail project, someone eliminated those comments. Arndt said, "All of a sudden, comments appeared in the document stating that the communities along the Southern corridors were highly supportive of the Zip Rail project, consistent with local planning, and based on input from citizens. All of which are lies."
Goodhue County declares opposition to Zip Rail project
Arndt praised Goodhue County's Board for its strong comments concerning the Zip Rail project. On March 1, the Commissioners passed a unanimous resolution that will be submitted to Zelle, MnDOT, and Olmsted County. The Commissioners agreed that the resolution should be added to other comments that will accompany the Alternatives Analysis report regarding misstatements about communities located along the Southern corridors being in favor of the project.
Twenty-five resolutions from cities, townships, and farm co-ops in Goodhue County have been sent to MnDOT, all opposed to the Zip Rail project. The Commissioners stated: "This project is not consistent with local plans, and it is presumptuous and downright wrong to imply passive support for a project simply because the County's Comprehensive Plan is mute to the issue. It would create substantial and unacceptable adverse environmental, economic and social impacts on the lands and citizens of Goodhue County. The Goodhue County Board of Commissioners hereby declares there is no support for, and there is opposition to the Zip Rail project, as presented in past meetings, past reports, and envisioned in the last study before the project was suspended, specifically the Alternatives Analysis project tor the investment plan and the Tier 1 EIS study."
It was noted that Dodge County is planning to pass a resolution soon, which will also express its opposition to the Zip Rail projects.
Public needs to
Arndt told those in attendance to contact Representative Tim Kelly, who is the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, to ask him to set up an informational hearing on the Zip Rail project. Kelly had volunteered to do that before the Zip Rail project was suspended. She noted that Kelly, Senator Matt Schmit, and Representative Steve Drazkowski are supporting CCARL, each in their own way. She also asked those in attendance to support Drazkowski's efforts to pass a bill, which he introduced last year, ensuring that North American High Speed Rail could not use eminent domain when acquiring private property along Highway 52 or Highway 56, and the bill would block public funding of their project.
Felton said people should ask what the official definition of need is for transportation projects. She had asked Zelle at the Urland meeting, and he told her he didn't know what the definition is. She suggested that the public ask their legislators to come up with an official definition of need and the criteria necessary to prove it. She said, "There is no such thing as gridlock on Highway 52 and that statement needs to be walked back. Think how much we could save in tax dollars if they never again embark on another study of Highway 52, which is currently 30% under capacity, and when totally upgraded to freeway status, will be at 50% under capacity for the next 40 years," pointing out that high speed rail along the Highway is not necessary.
The next meeting of CCARL will be held at the media room at Wanamingo Elementary School on Thursday, April 7 from 6-8 p.m. All are invited to attend.