Rail park to undergo environmental study

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Work on the Glacier Rail Park will be delayed by an environmental assessment, the Flathead County Economic Development Authority announced Wednesday.

The environmental study is being required by the Federal Railroad Administration.

It will be conducted by KLJ Engineering with input from the city of Kalispell and the economic authority, which are partners in the rail park on the east edge of Kalispell.

Kim Morisaki, project manager for the Economic Development Authority, said the environmental assessment is already underway.

The rail park is being funded by a $10 million federal grant.

“Large and complex projects receiving federal funding are typically required to complete environmental assessments,” Morisaki said in an email.

Morisaki said her agency was informed in late March that the project was complex enough to merit an environmental assessment, which began in early April.

She did not provide an exact timeline for the study to be completed, but told the Flathead Beacon that she doubted rail-park infrastructure development would begin before August.

“It is a clearly prescribed process with sequential steps that will require several months to complete,” she said in an email to the Daily Inter Lake.

“We were optimistic work could begin on the Glacier Rail Park this spring,” Morisaki said. “However, managing this project the right way and serving the community, even if it takes longer to start construction, is our top priority.”

Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell and Community Development Manager Katharine Thompson flew to Washington, D.C., last week to conduct meetings with federal agencies, including the Federal Rail Administration and the Surface Transportation Board, that are involved with the city’s Core and Rail Project. BNSF Railway was also present at the meetings, Russell said.

“They wanted a little bit of an expanded review,” Russell said. “This was an addition but we know going through this that there’s many things that will pop up we’ll need to do.”

Russell said the environmental assessment was an expected part of the process.

“That’s something they’ve been working through. It’s not that big of a concern for us,” Russell said of the Federal Rail Administration. “It’s just moving through the process. They’re part of the whole environmental review. Just one of those things you have to have in order to move forward.”

In a press release, Thompson wrote, “Redevelopment is hard work and the long-term benefits are well worth the investment. Revitalizing Kalispell’s Core Area is critical to maintaining a unique community identity attracting a skilled work force, tourism, as well as employers who recognize lifestyle is a key differentiator in competing for talent.”

The project timeline at www.KalispellCoreandRail.com calls for rail-park grading this year with construction to begin in 2017. CHS plans to relocate to the rail park in 2018 and the existing rails running through Kalispell are to be removed in 2019.

Reporter Seaborn Larson may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at slarson@dailyinterlake.com.

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