Council authorizes $28,000 for repairs
By Scott Bellile
The ongoing saga over whether to reactivate a rail spur appears to be approaching its final chapter.
The New London City council on Feb. 14 unanimously authorized $28,000 in financial assistance for Granite Valley Forest Products to restore rail service to 1 mile of deactivated spur.
The paperwork to make the project a go is set to be signed this week, City Administrator Kent Hager said Monday, March 6.
By helping fund the project, the city aims to promote economic development by preserving rail service for not just Granite Valley but for any local industry that decides to use it.
The spur, which runs from the area of River Road to the back of Granite Valley’s campus, is city-owned. However, the railroad crosses land owned by two separate entities, Canadian National Railway and the state of Wisconsin.
Granite Valley, along with any future businesses that choose to utilize the reactivated spur, will lease it from the city and maintain the tracks.
A train has not traveled the spur for eight to 10 years, Hager said. The city bought it for $90,000 years ago to save the rail from getting torn up and sold for scrap metal.
In a Feb. 3 memo, Hager explained that when the rail line restoration was initially envisioned, Granite Valley’s out-of-pocket expense was estimated to be just under $74,000. A $384,000 freight rail assistance grant, awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in January 2016, would cover the rest of the work.
Then Canadian National stepped in. It required another $62,000 in updates be performed to bring the railroad up to current standards, including installing a new switch.
The state declined to offer further financial assistance. Taking on the new cost itself, Granite Valley’s investment would have jumped from $74,000 to $136,000.
A Canadian National engineer later determined the full $62,000 in upgrades were not necessary but $28,000 in fixes were still needed.
Hager urged the city’s finance and personnel committee, which makes recommendations to the city council, to offer Granite Valley the $28,000 so the opportunity to preserve rail service did not slip away.
“If this goes away, it ain’t coming back,” Hager told the committee on Feb. 8. “It’s too expensive to rebuild. You gotta take care of what’s there now, or once it’s gone, it’ll be salvaged, it’ll be torn up, and the state will claim their 50 percent or better value of the pieces on their property.”
The $28,000 will come from designated economic development funds. It is the only direct financial assistance the city is offering toward Granite Valley’s project.
“We have to try to maintain that asset to that part of town,” First District Alderman John Faucher told the finance and personnel committee. “And everything could change tomorrow in the world. The price of diesel, the trucking industry, infrastructure on our roads, bridges, rail may all eventually be where this country absolutely hinges on it again. I can see that happening. … To me $28,000, it’s a no-brainer. We have to keep that asset there because we don’t know what the future’s going to bring.”
As part of the restoration process, the contractor that takes on the project will place track ballasts and replace 800 crossties. Rail will be reinstalled over Highway S because it was previously paved over.
Shane Cook, general manager for Granite Valley, thanked the finance and personnel committee at its meeting as well as Hager.
“He has been drug through the mud on this deal,” Cook said. “It’s taken us a long time. Very challenging to actually get the numbers, and when we finally did, we were all very shocked by it.”
After Canadian National’s demanded the upgrades, Cook sought local industries that would also lease the railroad and share the $28,000 upfront cost. With no takers, he then resorted to asking the city for financial assistance.
“The railroad is not only for us,” Cook said. “Hopefully it’ll be an improvement and it’ll grow the area out there for other companies.”
Granite Valley anticipates increased business with the rail and plans to build a sawmill to accommodate it. The sawmill facility will not generate much in property taxes for New London but will create more jobs.
Had the city council declined to help finance the spur and the project fallen through, the railroad would have been permanently decommissioned. The city would have torn up and sold the railroad pieces and built in its place an extension to the Newton Blackmour State Trail, which currently ends at House Road. Instead, New London Parks and Recreation will engineer an alternative path for the state trail extension.
Other city council approvals
Besides financial assistance for Granite Valley Forest Products, the New London City Council authorized other items last month, including:
• $675,555 in 2017 capital projects and equipment purchases. The full list is available at http://www.waupacanow.com/2017/01/25/new-london-ups-capital-spending/
• A $7,000 contract amendment with MSA Professional Services, the company that will repair the Wolf River retaining wall this summer. Under the revised contract, MSA will additionally design dumpster pads for centralized trash pickup in the riverside alleyway ($5,850). It will also redesign a curb on the west end of the alley between Taft Park and the Copper Shot Bar. Semis traveling through with deliveries are jumping the curb due to the tight curve.
• The inclusion of 401 and 405 S. Pearl St. in the demolition bid documents for the demolition of the former city garage. The two buildings are located across from New London Public Library and are in disrepair. The projects will go out for bid this month with approval by the city council in April and demolitions slated for early summer.
• Preliminary resolutions declaring the city council’s intent to levy special assessments upon property owners impacted by two separate upcoming sanitary sewer lateral construction projects. One will take place on East Beacon Avenue between Mill Street and the railroad. The other will take place in the town of Mukwa on Starlight Drive from North Star Court to Klatt Road. To perform the latter project, the city of New London will annex the properties on Starlight Drive.
• An agreement with McKinstry to create bid specifications and construction oversight for electrical repairs at the New London Aquatic and Fitness Center. The $19,000 in repairs was also approved as part of the capital projects list. The repairs will begin in May during the pool’s annual spring shutdown.
• A revision to Municipal Code Section 9.04 to reflect Wisconsin Act 71, a state law that permits bow hunting on private property within city limits. Act 71 was passed in 2013, but the city ordinance lacked any mention of it. The city ordinance will permit bow hunting on private land but the hunter cannot come within 100 feet of another landowner’s building without written permission.