LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A group of rail safety and environmental advocates opposed to a railroad expansion project through the La Crosse River marsh is asking a judge to pause work on a second BNSF track until the court decides whether the company’s permit is legal.
La Crosse County Commissioner Maureen Freedland and members of grassroots organization Citizens Acting for Rail Safety filed a lawsuit in March against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The lawsuit claims the agency’s environmental review of the project is inadequate, and also challenges the agency’s rule for implementing the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act.
Judge Scott Horne decided last month that the two-pronged challenge should be argued separately. He said the group has until August to file briefs on the first issue.
Contractors with the railroad company began building the second line in April after receiving a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowing them to fill more than 7 acres of wetlands. The work is part of a larger project to add a second track along a four-mile stretch of the line through La Crosse and is expected to be completed by September.
The group made the stay request in a motion filed Tuesday.
In the motion, the opponents argue that “irreparable harm” would be caused to the parties involved in the lawsuit and the general public if work is allowed to continue while the court is deciding the issue. And no damage award could mitigate “environmental damage that is difficult to measure in monetary terms,” it states.
“It would be difficult or impossible to undo … once you fill in the marsh and construct the track,” said Sarah Williams, staff attorney for the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates, which helped the group file its lawsuit.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plans to oppose the stay, according to Assistant Attorney General Anthony Russomanno, who’s representing the agency.
“It is DNR’s position that the permit was properly issued and complies with the law, and that therefore a stay is not warranted,” he said.
A BNSF representative declined to comment to the La Crosse Tribune.
A hearing on the stay has been set for June 22.