Friday, January 15, 2010

Environmentalists sue to halt BNSF intermodal hub in Kansas

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A federal lawsuit filed against BNSF and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to force a more detailed study of the impact on the air and water by the railroad planned intermodal center in southwestern Johnson County, Kan., the Kansas City Tribune reports. The proposed site lies near the city of Gardner and along BNSF‘s Transcon mainline and Interstate 35, a major national north-south highway. BNSF is seeking to build a $700-million, high-tech, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly 1,200-acre intermodal site between Gardner and Edgerton. The site would include an intermodal center where shipping containers would be unloaded from trains and a logistics park made up of warehouses, distribution centers and shipping points.

The lawsuit is a response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recent action in issuing a special water permit that allows the railroad to re-route a stream at the site. The permit recently issued by the Corps will allow the railroad to erase a stream in the middle of the site, said Mark Dugan, Overland Park attorney representing one of the plaintiffs.

The Hillsdale Environmental Loss Prevention (HELP), the Kansas Natural Resource Council and five individual plaintiffs want an Environmental Impact Statement rather than a simpler Environmental Assessment done on the site, Dugan said his clients believe the Corps is underestimating the environmental impact of the proposal, which is in an environmentally sensitive area. In estimating the impact, the Corps relied too heavily on data provided by BNSF, according to Dugan.

Air quality data were based on 2006 data from the Argentine intermodal center in Kansas City, Kan., and extrapolated to the first year of operation for the new Edgerton center, along with an estimate of the fifth year operation of the logistics park, according to Dugan. That data is too optimistic about the impact of "clean diesel" technology and ignores the fact that the Argentine operation would be moved to Edgerton, added Dugan. Scientific studies show a correlation between increased cancer rates and other health problems in people living next to California intermodal centers and rail yards.

Water quality data was based on comparisons with storm runoff from a smaller intermodal center, and the Corps concluded "minor adverse effects to water quality ... assuming that runoff from the proposed facility would be of similar or better quality, according to Dugan.

"There's going to be a lot more runoff from all that pavement compared to 1,200 acres of Johnson County pasture land," Dugan said. The site would be upstream from Hillsdale Reservoir, a major water source for much of Johnson County and the surrounding area, he said.

The data is solid, said Steve Forsberg, spokesman for the railroad.

"BNSF is confident the permit process thoroughly examined the environmental issues involved," Forsberg said in a written statement. "We will respond to the filing through the legal process and look forward to providing the project's significant economic, environmental and fuel-efficiency benefits to the Kansas City region."

Dugan said he's confident the lawsuit will be successful in forcing the more-extensive environmental study.

"I think there's a reasonable shot of making the Corps to comply," he said.

BNSF has said if the federal government agrees to provide a $50-million transportation grant to the project, the railroad will begin construction at the site within a couple months or so. If that happens, Dugan said he's prepared to seek an injunction to delay the work.

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