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Erik Burgess, Published March 31 2014

Walaker cites rail safety in casting lone vote against tax incentives for proposed $9 million Union Storage renovation

FARGO – Citing concerns about railroad safety, Mayor Dennis Walaker was the lone vote Monday night against a proposed major rehabilitation of an old downtown building near the train tracks.

The City Commission gave final approval for tax incentives for the Union Storage renovation project, 1026 NP Ave., with a vote of 4-1.

Developers behind the estimated $9 million renovation said the project will be mixed-use, with the building comprised of 36 percent retail and 64 percent apartments.

Walaker said he has major concerns about putting apartments that close to the tracks. He cited the oil train explosion last summer in the heart of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

“We do not – I repeat – do not have anything in residential proximity to the railroad tracks,” Walaker said. “And I am very, very concerned about what happened in Quebec. To say it’s not going to happen here – I hope it never does.”

Fire Chief Steve Dirksen said protecting the community against “catastrophic, once-in-a-lifetime” events is difficult.

“Anytime you have trains passing by, that’s a concern for me, but I don’t know how we protect against that, either,” he said.

John Williams, one of the project’s developers, said safety of tenants is of “utmost concern” to them.

“We do feel that the project will provide a safe environment,” he said.

Developers hope to start the project in June, with tenants moving in ideally by fall 2015.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518