City hears request to go 'whistle free'
A quiet zone won't be playing in West Fargo, at least not anytime soon, but West Fargo City Commissioners said they would be willing to address the idea again if there were enough resident support.
Sommerset resident Ed Green appeared before the West Fargo City Commission Monday night asking them to install the necessary equipment at the railroad crossings to enable West Fargo to go "whistle free," squelching the noise caused by passing trains blowing their whistles on the tracks north of his home, which is located a little over a mile from the 9th Street crossing.
Moving to West Fargo three months ago, Green said he didn't realize how loud the whistles were and how often they blew. He added the noise is so loud that he sometimes has to wear earplugs to help diminish the sound. He said if he had known about the whistles ahead of time "I don't think I would have bought my house here."
He noted that Fargo has adopted a quiet zone and Casselton is also in the process, encouraging the commission to consider the same.
Commissioner Mike Thorstad told Green that a similar proposal had presented itself in 2008, at which time Senator Byron Dorgan and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad officials were involved in exploring the possibility. It was determined that neither the federal government or BNSF would fund a quiet zone.
Thorstad said in West Fargo there are six railroad crossings with the one on Ninth Street Northeast the most troublesome, located the closest to residential areas. He said that crossing would need to undergo major reconstruction to be able to accommodate DMI using the tracks to haul its wind tower components over. He said the estimated cost at that time was approximately $400,000 to reconstruct that crossing alone, if there was enough width to do it. "It ends up being a significant problem both cost and construction wise. Once we started looking at costs involved with the three additional crossings to the north, it came down to economics."
Green suggested that the cost of such an undertaking be spread out over all the city's residents.
Thorstad questioned, with the tracks located in an industrial area, who would want to pay for it. He said commercial entities probably don't care about the noise, and he said convincing residents south of the Interstate to bear some of the cost might also be a challenge.
"We'd love to have it," Thorstad said. "I don't think it's a dead issue, but it always comes down to money. We are certainly willing to listen if you can get enough people to support it."
There was no formal action, but the commission suggested that Green petition fellow residents to define the interest level in the community for a quiet zone proposal.
In other action, the commission spent 45 minutes discussing a request for monetary compensation from Larry Wacha, before voting unanimously to refuse the request. Wacha, who lives at 152 32nd Ave. E., asked for reimbursement for expenses incurred restoring his property from what he said were construction and flooding damages.
Wacha presented a bill for $800 he spent on the repairs that he did himself, because he said the city had failed to accomplish the work to his satisfaction on his land within the last two-year timeframe. Wacha said he had approached City Administrator Jim Brownlee in 2009 asking for the city to pay the bill, but Brownlee said 'no' because the city was already paying a contractor to do the work.
Wacha said the damages were caused by flooding issues the past couple of years because of drainage from residential areas nearby including Shadow Wood, while city officials said the area is a natural low spot and the water was the result of higher Sheyenne River levels caused by rainy conditions along with the 2009 and 2010 floods.
The city has been pumping in the area in an effort to keep the water from ponding. "We didn't cause the water to back up," City Engineer Kevin Bucholz said. We could have done nothing about it and it would have been in his entire yard," adding the pumping has been "an ongoing balancing act."
City officials said a total of $16,700 has already been spent on restoring landscapes on various properties in the 32nd Avenue South area, including Wacha's. City staff has contended since the beginning that the property has been restored to as good or better condition than it was before.
Wacha said he decided to do the repair on his own because "nothing was being done right. They did not bring my property to the landscape height I need it at so I wouldn't flood out so bad."
Asked if there was a fix for this 'pumping' problem at some point down the road, Bucholz said officials are in the process of bidding out lift stations this fall for both the Shadow Wood and Maple Ridge areas that will hopefully be built this winter.
City Commissioner Mark Simmons said "it is very uncomfortable that we got to this point. We just can't have them (citizens) doing their own work and billing the taxpayer. I wish you would have come to us sooner."
Commissioner Duane Hanson agreed. Addressing Wacha, he said "I understand your frustration. You have a beautiful place, you take pride and you want it back. But if we are going to let everybody make changes and bill the city, we just can't do that. We can't expect the taxpayers to pay for it in my opinion."
Hanson made the motion to refuse paying the bill, with Commissioner Lou Bennett providing the second. Thorstad and Simmons voted to support the motion. Mayor Rich Mattern was absent from the meeting.
Other commission action included:
-okaying the rezoning of Hayden Heights 2nd Addition from single family dwellings to planned unit development to accommodate single family detached and attached (twin home) development. The property is located on the north side of 40th Avenue West about two miles south of I-94 and one mile west of Sheyenne Street, west of the Sheyenne Diversion;
-approving second reading for the rezoning of Maple Ridge First Addition from agricultural to single family dwellings, limited multiple dwellings, and approval of the land use amendment from medium density residential to low and high density residential, along with final plat approval;
-awarding the bid for the 2010 Pavement Management System Overlay Project to Northern Improvement Co., Fargo, with a low bid of $139,785;
-awarding the bid for Sewer and Water District 1222 Maple Ridge to Dakota Underground of Fargo with their low bid of $3,368,748.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, Aug. 16, at 5:30 p.m., in the Commission Chamber at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.