What a year, eh? The RiverTown newsroom looked back on 2020 to compile lists of the most important news and sports stories covered by the Star-Observer and Republican Eagle. Check back to Top 10 Stories of 2020 over the next few days to see what made the cut.

TOWN OF RICHMOND -- Canadian National Railroad’s construction of a 58-acre autoport/intermodal transportation facility testifies to the increasing impact both positive and negative that St. Croix Crossing is having on western Wisconsin.

Occupying gateway real estate alongside Wisconsin Highway 64 leading into New Richmond, plans for the expansive industrial hub pitted the Town of Richmond, city and St. Croix County against Wisconsin Central Ltd., CN’s local subsidiary in a lengthy 18-month and $156,00-plus legal battle.

The fight officially ended Nov. 17, 2020, with the unanimous ratification of Resolution 2020-04 by the Town of Richmond officially discontinuing a portion of 105th Street. The resolution was the final action required of the town as stipulated in an out-of-court settlement with WCL/CN.

The township received a one-time payment of $175,000 to “settle all ownership rights Richmond has in the section of 105th Street being discontinued, any claims Richmond may assert against WCL for trespass or failure to obtain necessary permits prior to construction activity, Richmond’s agreement to withdraw its factual and legal claims.” The township also waived any right to appeal any decision by the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads for Wisconsin.

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Canadian National in autumn 2020 completed laying the bed for the spur track coming off the mainline and feeding into the new autoport/intermodal facility just east of Wisconsin Highway 64 in the Town of Richmond. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia
Canadian National in autumn 2020 completed laying the bed for the spur track coming off the mainline and feeding into the new autoport/intermodal facility just east of Wisconsin Highway 64 in the Town of Richmond. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

While the railroad did lower the height of light towers from 100 to 80 feet and raise the height of some of the landscaped berms, it did not address many of the most meaningful mitigation measures the town, city and county petitioned for -- including impact on the value of surrounding property, loss of property tax revenues and potential development opportunities.

Ultimately, the coalition learned the hard way that railroads continue to benefit from a unique historic legal standing that makes them impervious to local and state regulations.

With construction nearing completion, CN expects to begin operating the intermodal facility in March 2021 with the autoport not far behind.

What to expect going forward

Once operations ramp up, residents nearby will begin to experience the reality of 24/7 truck and train traffic. As many as 15-20 train crossings a day are expected to deliver thousands of GM vehicles to the site to then be trucked to dealerships in the Twin Cities. Residents can also expect as many as 90 trucks a day entering and exiting the facility bearing a mixture of cars and 40-foot steel shipping containers loaded with agricultural commodities to be stacked and staged as part of the facility’s intermodal operations.

The surrounding community will have to deal with heavy trucking. Even with landscaped berms in place surrounding most of the facility to muffle the industrial symphony, nearby residents will have to contend with towering light poles that will keep the asphalt acres bright all night long.

Residents also will have to get used to a newly configured 105th Street, which dead ends in a cul de sac just before a new spur track connects CN’s main line to the facility.

The project promises to provide 10-12 new jobs to be hired locally. The new facility will also require CN to interface and train with local law enforcement and fire and rescue personnel

It remains to be seen just what kind of neighbor CN will make going forward. So far the railroad has come across as less than transparent in negotiations, local officials say, and not particularly interested in reaching out to the surrounding communities.

Readers can reach Tom Lindfors and tom@lindforsphoto.com.