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(Railroad) spur of the moment

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Dean Uselman points to the proposed site for Leaf River Ag in the southeast industrial park.1 / 2
Photo provided From left, Dean Uselman, Rep. Jim Oberstar and Wayne Wolden pose for a picture in Washington, D.C.2 / 2

Yes, Mayor Wayne Wolden confirmed, the trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss a railway extension was on the spur of the moment.

Wolden said the meeting was arranged by Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., when he visited Wadena on Friday, Aug. 27.

By Thursday, Sept. 2, Wolden, economic development director Dean Uselman and Region 5 Development Director Lee Miller were meeting with department heads and assistant de-partment heads of Federal Economic Development Administration, FEMA and the Federal Railroad Administration.

"We started out the meeting talking about the destruction that we had in our community," Wolden said. "Congressman Oberstar was able to give a first-hand account as he's been here, twice, and saw the devastation in its early stages and saw the point where we're at now."

Wolden said that the purpose of the meeting was to talk about a proposed railroad spur into Wadena's industrial park in order to keep Leaf River Ag in the county and entice Wadena Hide & Fur to relocate to the industrial park.

"I was very pleased with the help that Congressman Oberstar gave us. He's very passionate about this project, not only that but the Highway 10 project as well," Wolden said.

Uselman said he had been working with Leaf River Ag and Wadena Hide & Fur since the tornado hit.

"[The Federal EDA] said that this project fits perfectly within their program parameters, and they basically gave us a verbal commitment of funding for it," Uselman said.

Miller, who was working on grant writing, also said they received positive feedback and that their proposal had fit within the guidelines to receive funding.

According to Miller, Region 5 acts as the district liaison to the Federal EDA.

"Once the infrastructure, the rail spur is in place in the new industrial park, it will further trade opportunities for those looking to start or expand in Wadena by having that extra amenity in the industrial park," Miller said.

The Region 5 Development Commission was established in 1967, Miller said. It serves Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties.

"We focus on economic and transportation initiatives and issues. More recently we've been getting involved with community planning and energy-related initiatives," Miller said.

"It's my understanding that Leaf River Ag will be expanding their building footprint by around 50 percent. And it's my understanding also that this will add jobs," Wolden said.

Wolden said that one of the funding options was the Rail Line Relocation Program, which would be funded 90 percent federally and 10 percent locally. "We're estimating the cost of the line to be between $1 and $1.2 million. So the local match could be in between $100,000-$120,000 dollars," Wolden said.

The program would remove the spur from the existing Leaf River Ag site and replace it in the industrial park, Wolden said.

He said other programs for help could be found within Federal EDA, which would provide a 50 percent match, along with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Uselman said that he had worked with the Wadena County Commissioner and the Wadena County Highway Engineer, and that they were both supportive.

"It's a big thing for Wadena County to keep this business in Wadena County. Their other option would be to move to a site in Otter Tail County which would mean roughly a $300,000 loss in tax revenue to Wadena County," Uselman said.

The current railway ends in southeast Wadena at a red flag where the original was truncated after falling into disuse. Beyond the red flag, a trail into the industrial park marks the path where the rail spur used to follow before being dismantled. The plan is to rebuild about a mile through the general path of that trail, Uselman said.

"This is a project that's not specifically for one business," Uselman said. He said that the idea of building the rail spur had been on the table for two years, but was not immediately necessary until the June 17 tornado hit.

He also said that Wadena is in a unique position because of its location on a main line railroad, and that he was working with a company that wanted to relocate a site onto the current Peterson-Biddick site as soon as it was vacated.

"It has the potential to create as many as 50-100 jobs depending on what kind of business would potentially come to Wadena because of the rail spur," Uselman said.