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Rail spur funds come through

Wadena has secured funding for a proposed rail spur into the southeast Industrial Park to the tune of $1.4 million.

On Monday, a press release announced that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Wayne Wolden had secured the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) grant.

The process had taken about a year, starting with the spur of the moment trip to Washington, D.C. arranged by then-Congressman Jim Oberstar with Wolden, Wadena Development Authority Director Dean Uselman and Lee Miller of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Wolden said that they are waiting on official paperwork from the FRA on exact dates for the actual money to get through, but they are hoping to do engineering in the fall, bidding in the winter and building around May or so.

"We'll be matching this up with funds from DEED - that's a quarter million dollars - and also $300,000 in local funds, totaling just shy of $2 million for this project," he said.

The local funds are split between the county at $150,000, and Leaf River Ag at $150,000 or their former property along U.S. Highway 10. If Leaf River Ag gives the property to the city, the Wadena Development Authority or community center will give the $150,000.

"The mayor and the local businesses were really forceful in explaining how important this was," Klobuchar said, adding that she was in Wadena shortly after the tornado - where she met Scott Dau, general manager of Leaf River Ag - and again at the high school groundbreaking. Both times, she visited Leaf River Ag. Starting with the second visit, she focused on the rail spur.

She said that after everything Wadena has been through, the least they can do is help by extending the railway to businesses and industries to help with the rebuilding.

"I've been in constant contact with the mayor and doing everything I can to bring life back to normal in Wadena," Klobuchar said.

Leaf River Ag, which used to be located along U.S. Highway 10 by the tracks, relocated to the southeast industrial park after the tornado destroyed the original building. For its transportation needs, the cooperative has primarily been using trucks from its main site and maintained a presence along Highway 10 for when rail car transportation is necessary in Wadena.

"Once the spur is here, then we'll start making plans to get the equipment in place so that we can unload rail cars," Dau said, adding that they were one of several businesses interested in the spur.

When the spur comes through, Dau said, they can go through with the agreement with the city about the original Highway 10 site. The city has been intending to use the space for the wellness center which would replace the community center that was also destroyed in the tornado.

Wolden said that the spur would improve the rail siding along the former Peterson-Biddick site, and that the same unspecified company from several months ago was still interested in building a facility there and creating jobs.

"This is sort of one of those dominoes on the table that has tipped, and now it's going to hit another one and another one and another one," he said.

Wadena city council member Don Niles had traveled to Washington, D.C. in early August to meet officials about the railroad grant application.

"It's another example of how continued diligence and patience ultimately leads to a result that's well worth the effort," he said. "This is a major piece in terms of economic development for Wadena."

A Sept. 14 press release by the United States Department of Transportation on the FRA website announced that Wadena was one of eight cities and states to receive grants totaling $19.4 million and make the cut among 51 applications that had been received from around the country seeking around $202 million.

Wadena Development Authority Director Dean Uselman could not be reached for comment.