BNSF gets final go ahead for construction near marsh

Decision comes after year-long permit approval process, but it's still causing controversy

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway received the final permit it needs to build a second railway in La Crosse. The decision comes after a year-long permit approval process, but it’s still causing controversy.

The Army Corp of Engineers approved BNSF’s plan to construct a second railroad track through the La Crosse River Marsh.The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources gave their approval in February and the city did so last year. But a local group is hoping to reverse those decisions.

Ralph Knudson hasn’t lived in La Crosse long.

“My wife and I moved here about a year ago,” Knudson said.

But in that short time the La Crosse River Marsh has quickly become one of his favorite spots.

“It’s an amazing place for wildlife,” Knudson said.

When he found out BNSF railway was planning on putting in a second track through the marsh, as part of a 4-mile-long railway extension in La Crosse he decided to put up a fight by joining Citizens Acting for Rail Safety.

“I’ve seen too much in my life where natural environments get nibbled away; a sort of death by a thousand cuts,” Knudson said.

However the group’s efforts to halt construction in the wetlands are being bypassed the Army Corps of Engineers who just granted BNSF the last permit needed to begin work.

“We ended up issuing the permit because the applicant had demonstrated that they had chosen the least damaging alternative and had minimized the impacts within that alternative,” Dave Studenski,  with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

BNSF said the additional track will make their business more efficient and will stick to any environmental guidelines.

“There is a process in place for a construction project like this, and we follow that process,” Amy McBeth, a spokesperson for BNSF said.

However Knudson said he is going to continue to fight because what BNSF gains isn’t worth what the marsh will lose.

“Some of the area right behind me where the black tern would nest has been affected, I’m pretty doubtful that the black tern is going to come back and say ‘hey this is a great place to nest, let’s do it again this year; ‘ they won’t be here and where they go I don’t know,” Knudson said.

On May 7 Citizens Acting for Railway Safety will have their last chance at halting construction on the marsh. They are set to go in front of a circuit court judge to challenge the DNR’s decision to approve a permit without doing a full environmental impact study.

If there aren’t any changes BNSF plans to have the new set of tracks completed by this fall.