Stark County Zoning Board axes two rail projects
Big-time developers got a taste of small-town, homegrown opposition Thursday.
After hearing passionate opposition from local landowners, the Stark County Zoning Board denied requests for rezoning a combined 1,125 acres from agricultural to industrial for two separate rail spur projects.
Wearing bright yellow T-shirts that said "Neighbors United," opponents of the plans filled the Stark County Courthouse meeting room, spilling into the hallways, for the five-hour meeting.
They voiced concerns over the noise the facilities would make, the loss of agricultural land and the traffic the projects would bring to N.D. Highway 10 -- which many school buses use.
For one project, a proposed rail spur facility just east of Belfield on Highway 10, neighbors said their concerns hadn't changed from a month ago, when the board tabled the developers' rezoning request. They said the proposed tree line won't do enough to mitigate the noise, and the truck and facility employee traffic would make Highway 10 a death trap.
The South Heart project would increase Highway 10 traffic by a projected 300 trucks per day.
Developers say the Belfield facility would bring jobs to the area and provide a much-needed rail facility for the Bakken. It would connect to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, and employ 200 people.
"[Developer Stu] Stiles said he wants to bring more value to this area," Mary Hodell said. "Well guess what -- our area already is pretty valuable."
An overarching issue for residents and board members was uncertainty -- the developers don't have all their tenants in place.
"This is too full of nothing," resident Linda Weiss said. "It's a lot of unknowns, not specific enough."
The second project, a rail spur proposed for 5 miles west of South Heart, saw similar concerns from the same people.
County Planner Steve Josephson recommended denying both requests, saying they would make the land inconsistent with the zoning patterns currently in the area -- mostly agricultural.
Board members agreed with many of the residents' concerns on the Belfield project -- they said they like the idea of it and the diversity it would bring to employment opportunities, but didn't like the location.
"I think this is a good project, it's just a bad location," board member Klayton Oltmanns said.
"There are other areas where it would be more appropriate."
As for the South Heart project, board member Jay Elkin said he was more concerned with BNSF's ability to serve its current customers, and opted to give it time to catch its breath. Other members agreed.
The requests -- with the board's denials stamped on them -- go before the Stark County Commission on Oct. 1.