MN: Goodhue County Speaks Against Zip Rail

Aug. 20--RED WING -- The Goodhue County Board reversed course Tuesday to approve a resolution that opposes the controversial Zip Rail project "that would carve the county in half, be located outside the median of Highway 52, disrupt the flow of people and goods throughout the county, infringe on landowner rights and provide no direct benefit to county residents."

That unanimous decision comes on the heels of a lengthy public hearing in Kenyon where not one person spoke in support of the high-speed rail project seeking to connect Rochester to the Twin Cities. It also reverses a 2012 resolution from Goodhue County to Olmsted County that supported the project.

Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel was among those who were critical of Zip Rail during the meeting at Kenyon-Wanamingo High School earlier this month. Perhaps the biggest complaint from residents was how many county and township roads Zip Rail would intersect and potentially close, which could have a significant economic impact on the agricultural community.

Rechtzigel drafted a resolution that was approved Tuesday and sent to the Minnesota Department of Transportation just before the Aug. 22 deadline for public comments, which was extended 16 days at the request of local citizens.

"At that time (in 2012), it was an interesting idea to explore," Rechtzigel said. "Then it took a dramatic turn at the public meeting. We just wanted to make them aware that that (route) wasn't going to work.

"They're really going to have to go back to the drawing board now. It puts them in the position of having to be pretty creative to make this work."

Chuck Michael, the project manager, spoke with Rechtzigel over the weekend, but did not attend Tuesday's meeting. He said afterward that he disagreed with the county board's rationale.

"You've got to keep this in perspective," Michael said. "A decision on this is a long way off so an informed decision today is impossible."

Michael and the Zip Rail team are currently engaged in a multi-year federal study on potential routes and impacts of connecting major metropolitan areas through rural landscapes. Goodhue County is requesting that the Zip Rail be sited within the existing U.S. 52 right of way -- potentially in the median -- to reduce local impacts.

Michael says that remains an option but further study is required to show the positives and negatives of the potential routes.

A major concern for Zip Rail staff is travel time, which would be increased by selecting a route in the existing U.S. 52 right of way. Michael said train speeds, which are projected to reach 220 mph, would be restricted to the point the trip would take an additional 10-15 minutes and potentially lose ridership.

"At the end of the day, you have to say I can run a slower train with fewer impacts or a faster train with more impacts," Michael said. "That's the choice it comes down to."

A no-build option also remains an option, and is supported by at least a few regional legislators. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, spoke against it at the Kenyon meeting, and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, announced intentions earlier this week of drafting legislation that would block a project he characterized as "a California-style boondoggle."

Michael and Gov. Mark Dayton, who spoke Tuesday morning in Red Wing, both took umbrage with Garofalo's words.

"It's easy to say those things now because you don't challenge them on proving it," Michael said of critics, who have become especially vocal in recent weeks. "You can say anything you want. We just can't do that because we have to show our work and that doesn't come overnight. Any way you put it, it's jumping too soon."

Gov. Dayton was even more succinct in his assessment.

"It sounds like a good way to get a headline," Gov. Dayton said of Rep. Garofalo.

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