Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pinal rail yard running into opposition

[Source: Eric Beidel, Northwest Explorer] -- Pinal County may be heading for a trainwreck of enviromentalists, farmers and home builders opposed to a proposed rail yard just north of the Pima County line. The State Land Department wants the designation of more than 10,000 acres of land between Picacho Peak and Red Rock changed from "natural resource, development sensitive" to "urban, industrial." This would allow the land department to sell almost 1,900 acres to Union Pacific Railroad, which plans to build a switching yard across the highway from Picacho Peak State Park. Pinal County supervisors will decide the issue on Nov. 29.

With a 5-3 vote, the county planning and zoning commission on Oct. 26 recommended denial of the land department's request. Citizens have formed a group to lobby against the potential rail yard. The collective, which includes a landowner, a resort owner and a consultant, calls its struggle a "David and Goliath battle" and wants Union Pacific to find another location for its switching yard. The group set up a Web site to promote its cause.

The proposed "hump" yard would contain 36 tracks on 585 acres, almost twice the size of Tucson's 24-track, 300-acre rail yard at 22nd Street. A Union Pacific yard in Phoenix consists of just 20 tracks on 140 acres. The Tucson yard stretches about two miles in length and a quarter-mile in width. The proposed yard in Pinal would stretch a little longer, Union Pacific officials said. "We just think it's a bad place," said Marana Councilman Herb Kai, who leases from the state much of the land that Union Pacific wants. "Union Pacific is a big elephant that sits on anyone and doesn't care who they're sitting on." [Note: To read the full article, click here.]