NEW RICHMOND -- If 2019 was any kind of omen of what is to come, residents of New Richmond and surrounding communities better buckle up, the ride promises to be challenging.
All the promise for potential development wrapped up in the 2017 St. Croix Crossing bridge is beginning to be realized -- some of it out of local governments' control.
As a community about to reach a population of 10,000, with good schools, easy access to the Twin Cities, an abundance land for development and a welcoming reputation, New Richmond expected new opportunities to come knocking at the door and they have.
Last May, following an initial conversation between Town of Richmond Chairman Gary Knutson and representatives from the Canadian National Railway, the most compelling story of the year began to unfold. Residents learned the railroad was purchasing the Robert and Leona Asp property on the south side of County A/Highway 64 at 105th Street. CN intends to construct a 38 acre auto port on the 58 acre site capable of receiving up to 40 rail cars per day, enabling delivery of roughly 100,000 vehicles annually into the Twin Cities market.
In August, township and city officials joined forces and hired an attorney with extensive railroad litigation experience. Kathy Chung. Chung, in consultation with Town of Richmond attorney Tim Scott and New Richmond attorney Nick Vivian, recommended mitigation as the remedy that offered all of the parties the best outcome versus the unassailable legal standing of the railroad.
Numerous town hall meetings culminated in a community conversation Oct. 9. Town Board, New Richmond City Council and a room full of residents voiced concerns directly to Larry Lloyd, CN manager of government and public affairs.
The result was a list of 26 questions/concerns. CN provided a written response in early November.
On Nov. 14, three CN representatives met with residents and announced that the first phase of construction -- moving earth to prepare the site for paving -- would begin Dec. 2 and continue up to Christmas.
“It will be a two shift operation, so 24 hours a day, five days a week. The work entails removing the topsoil and repositioning it to level the area,” CN senior project manager Chris Hungerbuhlers said.
A developer’s agreement specifying mitigation measures desired by the residents immediately affected by the auto port and the wider community was presented to CN just prior to Thanksgiving. CN has acknowledged receipt and review of the agreement but to date has not responded.
How CN responds to the proposed mitigation measures will go along way toward establishing how they will be perceived as a “neighbor” going forward in 2020 and beyond, officials agree.
The only real bargaining chip the community has -- the rerouting of 105th Street -- has yet to be negotiated. Both the railroad and the town agree that safety is the overriding concern, but how that will be accomplished not been spelled out.
Entering the new year, town and city officials have to believe whatever mitigation measures they can secure from the railroad will have to be implemented in a phased manner. The brief history of this relationship suggests if those measures are not secured before construction resumes this summer, the likelihood that CN would negotiate diminishes the warmer the weather gets. CN plans to have the facility completed and ready to operate by July 1, 2021.