Lawsuit halts Kirkland’s trail plans for now
SNOHOMISH - Much to the chagrin of Kirkland and to the delight of Snohomish, a Seattle railroad company was awarded a temporary injunction to stop Kirkland from removing railroad tracks from its portion of a 42-mile north-south rail corridor.
Ballard Terminal Railroad Company filed the lawsuit in federal district court April 1 to stop Kirkland’s plans to rip up nearly six miles of track. Ballard Terminal’s lawsuit argues that railroad uses take priority and protection of that priority falls under federal jurisdiction.
Railroad uses include freight, light rail, commuter and tourist trains. Kirkland’s plans of converting the railroad bed into a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail system is not one of those uses.
Ballard Terminal has also filed two petitions with the Surface Transportation Board (STP) to acquire the rights to what it claims is an abandoned rail line as well as the right to reactivate freight service from Woodinville to Bellevue.
The STP, a federal agency, is the only authority that can consider the issue. Ballard Terminal’s argument to the STP is that if Kirkland removes their portion of the rail, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Ballard Terminal to reinstate freight service “because of the substantial cost Ballard would have to incur to reinstall the rail and crossing materials along the line,” court documents state.
“By losing this opportunity, Ballard will be irreparably harmed, and will have no adequate damage remedy,” the documents state.
Kirkland had been excited to get the project started, transportation engineer manager David Godfrey said last month.
The city had incorporated creating the trail system into long-term city goals in 2011 and had anticipated starting construction as early as this week. Kirkland would have been using $2 million in state grant funding — funding it will lose if it’s not used by June 2015.
Kirkland’s trail project, reportedly popular with the city’s residents, has been a source of contention for mayors of other cities along the 42-mile rail corridor.
Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak and Woodinville Mayor Bernie Talmas recently pleaded with Kirkland to reconsider ripping out the tracks because it would interfere with plans for tourist and commuter trains. Along with the mayors, several wineries and other businesses have come together in recent months to form the Eastside TRailway Alliance, which advocates for maintaining the rail corridor as a means of economic development for the region.
The group meets frequently to discuss goals for the rail line and to brainstorm fundraising opportunities.
The group first wants to operate a tourist train that would shuttle tourists and residents between the city of Snohomish and the wineries of Woodinville.
The tourist train project, which is currently unfunded, is estimated to cost $6.2 million. The figure includes rehabilitating the tracks.
Ultimately, Guzak said, the group is hoping to add commuter service to and from Bellevue. Kirkland’s plans to take out the tracks and replace them with a trail would leave a gaping hole in the corridor and commuter service nearly unattainable, Guzak said.
Guzak met informally last week with several different groups interested in the Eastside TRailway Alliance’s vision and said that they are watching the dispute between Ballard Terminal and Kirkland as “interested observers.”
“We clearly would like the rail line to stay intact,” Guzak said. “Right now we’re watching with interest.”
In a letter to Kirkland residents, Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett indicates the city is readying itself for a legal battle.
“We are confident that Kirkland will ultimately be able to carry out our citizens’ vision for the Corridor,” Triplett wrote. “(Ballard’s) actions make it necessary for the city to carefully evaluate Ballard’s claims and to consider our legal options. We intend to keep with the community’s desire to allow use of the trail as soon as possible, even if it requires us to put our plans on hold as we take time to better understand the impacts of the lawsuit and petition.”
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