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Railyard Relocation Could Happen Quickly

August 6, 2012, 6:06 PM by Don Jorgensen

Railyard Relocation Could Happen Quickly

A plan to relocate the downtown railroad switchyard in Sioux Falls has been derailed for years.  Now it's back on track and according to city officials, the plan is finally picking up speed, but there could be some hidden dangers.

The city has $35 million from the federal government to buy the 16 acres.  Burlington Northern has decided it can reconfigure its trains that would eliminate the need for a switchyard, so now it's ready to sell the land to the city.

"I love the idea," city council member Dean Karsky said.

Karsky says on the surface, the plan looks appealing, but he wants to hear more of the details about the contract and how the $35 million can be used.

"According to the conversations I've heard between the city, state and federal government that the contract would allow us to use that money to buy the land," Karsky said.

But city council member Greg Jamison says while this deal could get done quickly, he thinks the city needs to be careful to make sure that land can be used for retail and commercial development.

"It's probably been contaminated for several years by trains doing all sorts of things.  Just because we own it, it would also mean we have to take care of any problems there, so we have to be smart about this and not just accept it and not know what the final outcomes are going to be on that land.  We could find ourselves with land we can't do anything with," Jamison said.

There still needs to be an appraisal done on the land to see how much it's worth and there will have to be some soil samples taken to be tested for contaminants.

"We couldn't go on there today and do a soil sample.  I think when Burlington Northern leaves that area, they are going to say, 'It's yours as is,' and that's a pretty risky deal to get involved in," Jamison said. "I think everybody is hopeful that this is a solution to a city problem we've had for a long time."

Another possible sticking point, Karsky says is Ellis and Eastern Railroad has the first option to buy the land and it would have to waive its rights of first refusal for the deal to happen.

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