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Railway buildup causes concern

Village of Big Lake files injunction against BNSF, state transportation commission

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HOLT COUNTY, Mo. ­— The Village of Big Lake has filed an injunction in Holt County Circuit Court against BNSF Railway and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

The action is a result of BNSF raising the railroad that runs on the south side of town, which results in an impediment for water to leave the village, officials say.

It is the village’s belief that the raised railroad creates a “bathtub effect” because it traps water for extended periods of time, Big Lake attorney Creath Thorne said. Also, Big Lake is alleging that BNSF did not follow a city ordinance that says anyone who constructs in Big Lake is supposed to conduct a hydraulic study, showing the effects of the construction on flood control.

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On Thursday, numerous railway employees were working to place gravel and rocks on the side of the railway. BNSF did not block the pipes underneath the railway.

“It’s not just the side of the railway,” Mr. Thorne said. “They’ve got this incredible machine that can actually lift up the tracks, then shovel gravel in underneath. So you can just go down the track and raise it about a foot at a time.”

Andy Williams, regional public affairs director for BNSF, did not comment when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Williams said later in an e-mail: “BNSF already has many rail lines under water, and we are elevating approximately 3.4 miles of track near Big Lake by as much as 20 inches in an effort to keep the main line between Kansas City and Lincoln above floodwaters. ... We will continue to be responsive to flood concerns in a manner consistent with our federal obligations to provide interstate transportation service.”

Big Lake filed the injunction earlier this month. Mr. Thorne said Thursday he had yet to receive an answer from BNSF, and that he will ask for an early hearing, though a court date has not been set.

Mr. Thorne said he thinks this year’s flooding will occur before Circuit Judge Roger Prokes can rule on the injunction, which asks that the railroad tracks be lowered and that BNSF complete a hydraulic study.

“We’re looking to the future as well,” Mr. Thorne said. “Even if we don’t eliminate the problem in the next day or the next week, it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Mr. Thorne declined to comment on whether BNSF has allegedly broken any state or federal laws in addition to the city ordinance.

Bob Sipes, a Holt County resident and a member of Levee District No. 10, said the levee where the railroad is located is 7 feet lower — 870 to 863 feet above sea level — than the levee at the north side of the village. He said the more BSNF raises the railway, the more water is trapped.

“The big thing that this does is it alters the base flood elevation,” Mr. Sipes said.

Many of the houses surrounding Big Lake already have been evacuated, and the reaction throughout the village of about 150 people generally has been negative.

“They’re (the railroad) just doing what they want to do,” resident Misty Hayworth said.

Andrew Gaug contributed to this story. He can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.
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