By Beth Bily
The possibility of rail transport competition in and around the city of Grand Rapids moved one small step closer to reality on Monday.
The city council authorized an expenditure of $5,000 to contribute toward a rail initiative pre-engineering report. The city, county and a number of industrial rail customers in and around Grand Rapids have long lamented the lack of rail competition locally. Currently the Grand Rapids market is served by only one carrier, Burlington Northern.
The issue of captive rail has long been on the minds of city and county planners. In 2014, the city and county authorized a two-phased study on the possibility of bringing another rail carrier into the industrial market here. That study took place along two fronts – an initial railroad feasibility study and eventual roadway changes that would be needed to accommodate rail competition.
In a telephone interview, City Administrator Tom Pagel referred to the newly authorized study as “sister” study to the 2014 initiative. The current study will offer a more in-depth assessment of engineering and construction costs, he said.
The study is being led by Itasca Economic Development Corp. in partnership with local government and industrial rail customers. It carries an estimated total price tag of $300,000 to $350,000. A $275,000 grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and a $50,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation will cover the bulk of costs. Funding for the study also will come from the city of Grand Rapids, the county and city of Cohasset contributions.
At Monday’s council meeting, Councilor Rick Blake summed up the value of competitive rail with: “There’s no question that this would be a good thing for the city of Grand Rapids.”
Pagel underscored the need pointing to personal research he completed on the subject in 2009. “When you’re a captive rail customer, it’s virtually impossible to get competitive rail rates,” he said during an interview.
The Grand Rapids portion of project funding will come from the city engineer’s professional services budget.
In other business, the council:
• Approved claims in the amount of $610,002.83.
• Listened to the 2016 police department report from Chief Scott Johnson.
• Approved a $7,200 contribution for costs associated with a community event billboard, which will be shared among the city, school district and Reif Arts Council. The council also approved a land lease agreement with Blandin Paper Co. for a parcel that will be the billboard’s location.
• Approved a land purchase from the Funk Estate in the amount of $4,000. The land will provide ongoing access to city storm water infrastructure features. The land carries an estimated value of $10,000, according to county records.
• Approved Jared Anderson and Jeff Cook to the position of firefighter trainee at a rate of $12/hour. The appointments are contingent upon successful completion of drug testing and other requirements.
• Extended the city’s contract with Waste Management for waste collection. The original contract was scheduled to expire in July, however, the agreement did provide for five-year extensions, if mutually agreed upon. The fees for waste and recycling collection will increase less than 1 percent annually under the extension terms. City officials also noted that an area of town where waste collection and recycling collection had previously taken place on different days would move to same-day pick up under the extension agreement. About 150 households will be affected by the move to same-day pick up.