New Grey Cloud group hopes to block BNSF plans

By Katie Nelson Today at 11:01 a.m., South Washington County Bulletin

South Washington County Bulletin article

 The land owned by BNSF Railway at the border of St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island will remain farm field, just as it was last summer, but BNSF could choose to build a parking lot on the land at any time. (Bulletin file photo by Katie Nelson)

The land owned by BNSF Railway at the border of St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island will remain farm field, just as it was last summer, but BNSF could choose to build a parking lot on the land at any time. (Bulletin file photo by Katie Nelson)

BNSF Railway's planned vehicle lot in St. Paul Park is postponed, but only for now — and a new Grey Cloud Island nonprofit organization is well aware of that.

Dave Jasper and Paul Schoenecker talked "from day one" about getting an organization started to combat the proposed 100-acre auto staging lot in St. Paul Park, directly across the road from Grey Cloud Island residents, Jasper said. They started the nonprofit organization Citizens to Preserve Residential Communities to do just that. Jasper is president of the nonprofit. Schoenecker is a Grey Cloud Town Board supervisor and is serving as a board liaison to the nonprofit.

 

"The initial presentation by BNSF created a lot of anxiety around the township, especially the homeowners," Schoenecker said. "There were a lot of people sending letters out. ... The idea (of the organization) was to collect us as one voice."

Jasper said most of the 30-some houses fronting BNSF's lot have joined the group, and many other residents worried about the proposal's effects.

"This is a really bright, engaged group of people," Schoenecker said. "From the people who live here next to it, it's absolutely devastating .... (There's been) a severe impact on home values, and other really, really horrible things expected."

The organization's first effort against the railway is a petition, which can be signed online.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said they are aware of the petition.

"When I saw the petition and saw township officials were part of that petition, I just wanted to make them aware it's more productive and useful to talk about mitigation (on the site)," she said. "We certainly did not ask them to not have people sign it. In terms of the petition, overall we understand and respect people's rights to petition."

Once CPRC gathers enough signatures, Jasper and Schoenecker said their next step will be to bring legal action against the railway.

"There's kind of two minds in this group," Jasper said. "One mind is let's do the South Dakota protest thing and get them to change. The mind I'm part of is we need some formal action through the courts, whether we get it stopped and they sell to retail or homeowners."

Schoenecker said they already have about 300 signatures.

"Our goal is to stop it entirely and revert it back to residential," Jasper said. "If you have lots of support, things are more likely to go your way. Numbers always are meaningful to courts."

The proposed BNSF construction is currently on hold due to "market conditions," McBeth said last month. There is not a timeline in place to start the project. BNSF owns the land.

"(That) immediately took the wind out of our sails," Jasper said. "I begged everyone to stay involved. We're sort of half active now."

Schoenecker said having the project stalled will help the organization's efforts.

"Give it time to put out word and make connections, so that's a positive thing," he said.

Schoenecker and Jasper said they will spend time improving the organization, gathering signatures and raising money to help cover legal fees.

For more information on CPRC or for a link to the petition, visit www.cprcommunities.org.

Christina O'Grady