Members of the MRC board, (L-R): Kim Halverson, Attorney Ken Cotton, Monte Anker and Tim Greenway, face the audience gathered for the rail authority meeting held Thursday, December 14 at Chamberlain.

MRC Board advises DSR to address issues

The Mitchell Rapid City (MRC) Regional Railroad Authority board issued a strong warning to the Dakota Southern Railroad (DSR) to resolve operational issues, including a three-year old dispute with a landowner over damages caused by a fire, hazardous materials car violation, non-payment of out-standing bills, and other complaints. 
“We're sliding down hill with Dakota Southern,” said the MRC's attorney Ken Cotton after listening to public input from land owners, county officials, and a representative from Wheat Growers elevator during the MRC's December 14 meeting at the Anchor Grill in Chamberlain. “There's just a lot of things, starting with the weeds, going up to this fire. If you want to operate out here, these issues need to be addressed,” said Cotton.
Cotton stated that as the attorney for the board, “We expect some major changes quickly.”
The meeting room at the Anchor Grill was packed when MRC board chairman Kim Halverson opened the meeting and asked for public comment.
In addition to comments from county weed supervisors about the noxious weeds along the MRC line, Dustin Buntrock of South Dakota Wheat Growers Elevator stated they had invoiced DSR $275,000 for origin efficiency program (OEP) payments from the BNSF railroad for moving grain shuttle cars from Mitchell to the WG facility at Kennebec and back quickly and efficiently. The OEP is an incentive payment.
According to Dakota Southern's Vice-President of Operations Heath Haden, the payment of $100 per car is paid to DSR but in some cases they negotiate an agreement with elevators on the line.
“All the elevators we have an agreement with receive half. We have no agreement whatsoever with Wheat Growers,” he said. “We reached out to them since April of 2015. This is something that should be discussed between Wheat Growers and Dakota Southern, not in an open forum.”
Steve Fox, an attorney representing Larry and Shelly Overweg of Kimball, informed the board that his clients have not been paid for the estimated 120 trees damaged during a fire along the rail line caused by the train three years ago.
“The claim is unresolved,” said Fox, adding his client is ready to take the issue to court.
“There is no reason the two sides can't sit down together and figure this out,” said Cotton.  
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) investigated a citizen's complaint earlier this fall with regards to DSR's movement and storage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) being stored for extended periods of time in Chamberlain and on Wheat Growers' loop track at Kennebec.
In a report from FRA dated September 8, 2017, it was determined there were two violations totaling 12 counts. According to Haden, that decision was later reduced to one violation, with 11 counts.
Haden said the cars are safe to move and they are doing everything possible to safely move the hazmat cars. 
“I think it's gotten blown out of proportion,” he said. Brule/Buffalo County Emergency Manager Katheryn Benton replied sharply, “when you bring 88 cars of butane into my county and let me know the day after, it's going to get blown out of proportion,” she said.
Haden said there was a lot of negative things brought up during the meeting, however DSR is “doing a lot of positive things.”
“We're trying to grow business here,” he said. “We should be moving 400 to 500 more cars next year with the new facility at Presho coming on.”
Cotton informed the group that several of the issues addressed during the meeting were already on the state rail board's agenda for their meeting December 20 in Pierre including; DSR's private trackage agreement with Brule Terminaling, LLC; Derailment cleanup, FRA tour held November 29, and DSR's FRA hazardous material car violations.
Halverson and Cotten will attend the state meeting and share the public input gathered from the regional authority meeting.
Halverson suggested the board hold a conference call after the state meeting to discuss the direction they should take with regards to resolving issues with DSR. 
The MRC line is part of the state owned rail line in South Dakota. The line is leased to the MRC regional railroad authority who in turn sub-leases the line to Dakota Southern Railroad.

The Pioneer Review

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