BROOKINGS, S.D. – Fifty-six percent of Brookings voters rejected the city’s Community Partnership Agreement (CPA) with the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern (DM&E) Railroad.
The results show that many Brookings residents were dissatisfied with the railroad’s mitigation proposal, some pundits say.
DM&E has requested a $2.3 billion federal subsidy to upgrade and expand the private railroad’s tracks to haul large volumes of coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to distribution points in the East. If approved, the project could result in as many as 34 coal trains passing through Brookings each day at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
“People were told they really didn’t have a choice but to accept the agreement and that DM&E’s offer wouldn’t get any better, but the people of Brookings refused to be railroaded,” said Aase, spokesperson for the Track the Truth. “It’s remarkable how many Brookings residents had the courage to stand up to the railroad — especially after Mr. Schieffer’s November 5th letter in the Brookings Register warning people that voting ‘no’ would only result in less mitigation and fewer concessions for local residents.”
Last spring, a group of 676 concerned citizens signed a petition that put the Brookings CPA on the ballot. Since then, the Committee for a Safer Brookings was formed and has worked to educate voters that the city could do better and encouraged voters to reject the CPA. Safety, quality of life and fairness were primary concerns of the group. The Committee felt that the agreement fell short in addressing issues such as train noise, pollution, vibration and funding.
Under the former CPA, DM&E agreed to pick up the 10 percent cost for upgrades. Traditionally the other 90 percent of the tab is paid by U.S. taxpayers (federal grants), but it is not guaranteed. The Committee for Safer Brookings wanted the agreement worded in a way that if federal grants fell through, the city of Brookings would not get stuck with the bill for the remaining balance.
“Local communities like Brookings and Rochester have too much to lose not to demand better protections than the railroad is currently willing to give,” said Aase. “DM&E is asking for a $2.3 billion taxpayer loan yet they’ve dismissed local taxpayers’ concerns as irrelevant. It’s encouraging that communities are beginning to reject the railroad’s heavy-handed tactics.”