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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2003 arrow Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming: Expansion and Rehabilitation of the Powder River Basin Railroad
Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming: Expansion and Rehabilitation of the Powder River Basin Railroad
Agency: Surface Transportation Board

Underscoring the importance of public involvement in Section 106 review, the Surface Transportation Board was compelled to withdraw an agreement for a large railroad construction project spanning Minnesota, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

The agreement, which had been transmitted in 2001 to 50 consulting parties for signature, was withdrawn to make revisions that better accommodate public interest in the project’s effects on archeological properties and historic stone arch bridges.

Degraded rail infrastructure and increased demand for electricity and coal prompted the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern Railroad (DM&E) to apply for a permit from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to construct 300 miles of new rail lines across Minnesota, Wyoming, and South Dakota and to rehabilitate approximately 600 miles of existing rail line in Minnesota and South Dakota.

Double-arched stone bridge


“The Arches” stone arch railroad bridge, Winona County, MN: one of many historic bridges that may be affected by reconstruction of the Powder River Basin Railroad in Minnesota and South Dakota (photo © Doug Ohman, Pioneer Photography)


Known as the Powder River Basin Expansion Project—the largest railroad expansion ever considered by STB—the construction has the potential to affect important archeological sites and destroy stone arch bridges that the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota ranked among the “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties in Minnesota.” In addition, the entire Minnesota rail segment of the line was recommended for designation in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2001, a Programmatic Agreement (PA) that outlined STB’s responsibilities under Section 106 for the proposed project was close to completion among the project’s consulting parties—the ACHP, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureaus of Land Management and Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) of Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, and DM&E, and 38 Indian tribes and tribal organizations.

Before the agreement was executed, the Minnesota SHPO and the ACHP requested revisions that, among other things, would better provide for public involvement in decisions that affect historic properties. STB proceeded to issue a license for the project, however, before the agreement was finalized. Concerned about the project’s effects on archeological properties, a group of affected Wyoming land owners and an Indian tribal organization filed a lawsuit alleging that STB failed to comply with the requirements of Section 106.

In 2002, the Minnesota SHPO held a well-attended public meeting where citizens expressed concern for the fate of the stone arch railroad bridges. Wyoming Senator Michael Enzi, Wyoming Representative Barbara Cubin, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation also expressed interest in the project in 2002.

As a result of this interest, and negotiations among STB, DM&E, the Minnesota SHPO, and the ACHP, STB decided to make a number of technical revisions to the PA. In March 2003, STB and the ACHP transmitted the final revised PA for the project to the other participating Federal agencies and SHPOs for signature. STB also transmitted the agreement to the consulting Indian tribes and tribal organizations. The agreement is expected to be executed later this spring.

The ACHP is pleased with the final agreement, which now requires DM&E to provide the public with opportunities to review and comment on specific plans for identification and treatment of historic properties, as they are developed.

Staff contact: Carol Legard

Posted August 15, 2003

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