Whither Prairies to Power?

prairies_to_power_logo.jpgIn this weekend’s Northfield News article titled Railway cancels ads for ethanol, there’s no mention of Prairies to Power, the local coalition of ethanol plant supporters that was supposedly behind the ads and radio show.

Was that an oversight on the part of the reporter, Suzanne Rook, or a reflection of reality? If the latter, it should have been addressed in the otherwise well-written article.


  1. Stephanie Henriksen said:


    There is no “Prairies to Power,” unless you call Clancy Dokmo and maybe John Machacek a coalition. Dave Fellon said in his email to Supervisor Gary Ebling of March 12 that Progressive Rail would continue to promote the ethanol plant until the ethanol company (Advanced BioEnergy) tells them to stop. Well, evidently they told them to stop.

    Fellon’s letter lists other more offensive and polluting industries he is considering for the site if we don’t take ethanol:

    aggregates terminal
    car/truck distribution center
    coal/fly ash storage silos
    solid waste transfer station
    piggyback operation (containers to rail)

    Ebling has invited Fellon to speak on the authority the railroad may or may not have to bring in these other industries tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 3, 7 pm at Bridgewater Township Work Session at township hall, 500 Railway St. in Dundas. Check it out.

    April 3, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:


    Can you update us on that meeting? Was the Nfld News or KYMN there?

    April 4, 2007
  3. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    No media. We had hoped to bring in a representative of the state railroad administration office later in the month, but Ebling beat us to it and brought in Fellon and Gorgenson on a one-day notice instead.

    They presented the uses proposed in the Mar. 12 letter as inevitable (if we don’t take the ethanol plant or maybe in addition to it) and gave us truck numbers per day:

    *fly ash terminal (for concrete mix) 50 trucks/day
    *municipal solid waste, pelletized to burn in power plants 50 trucks
    *aggregate transloading terminal 200 trucks/day (LG Everest)
    *auto marshalling facility 100 trucks/day, 6000 railcars/yr
    *intermodal facility 1600 trucks/day, 174,000 railcars outbound

    One resident pointed out that even if Bridgewater was not doing zoning, these are not uses allowed in ag zone. Fellon said federal law preempts local government and referenced the Thomas McFarland Law Firm in Chicago. We asked for copies and are analyzing them now. The papers say it is proposed that Progressive Rail will purchase or lease the 300-acre site and develop it into a rail-truck transloading center that would include the above uses.

    Fellon did not answer questions directly, but talked incessantly, to the irritation of the audience. As one person said afterward, “Fellon was like a teenager on drugs.” We still have no indication that PR has an arrangement with Advanced BioEnergy and the land owner to take over the site for these other uses, or has the financing for it.

    Two people from Randolph Township came (they rebuffed the ethanol proposal there), which was nice.

    April 4, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Stephanie.

    Fellon said “federal law preempts local government” for local land use”?

    Is that because it’s rail?

    April 5, 2007
  5. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Right. I think this is an empty threat, though, because Progressive Rail would have to buy or lease the site, once the ethanol company releases it (purchase agreement).

    The claim about the junction here being such a “sweet spot” (unique in the nation) doesn’t hold up, according to a book of railroad maps Steve Albers obtained. You might want to call him. So many of Fellon’s statements turn out to be false or half truths.

    April 5, 2007
  6. Paul Fried said:

    I don’t get the claim that ““federal law preempts local government” if Fellon is talking about land use.

    I understand it if they’re talking about, say, a local sign ordinance that prohibited certain signs on actual freight cars, and a federal law that allowed train freight to identify the company doing the shipping (i.e. Progressive Rail) or the company that owns the contents (Malt-O-Meal).

    I understand it if it relates to the train right-of way, regarding the land the tracks are on, etc.

    But not an area around the tracks being zoned for certain commercial/industrial uses. Is that his claim? That doesn’t make sense.

    April 5, 2007
  7. Stephanie Henriksen said:


    I will try to forward the attorney letter Dave Fellon presented at the township work session Tuesday to back up his claim. The letter says Progressive Rail is proposing to lease or buy the 300 acre site for the list of uses in the March 12 letter. Word is they don’t have the financing to buy it (once the ethanol company backs away from it). So we think it’s a bluff.

    April 6, 2007
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Northfield News: Progressive Rail sends a new message

    Residents were put on notice Tuesday – an industrial site could soon come to Bridgewater Township and they would be powerless to stop it. The information came in a letter delivered Tuesday by Progressive Rail President Dave Fellon during a township board of supervisors work session. Fellon was at the meeting to discuss the authority railroads have as it pertains to an area’s zoning.

    According to the letter, written by a Chicago attorney hired by Progressive Rail, Thomas E. McFarland, the federal government has jurisdiction over railroad property. Local zoning laws, McFarland wrote, do not apply to those areas. And, the letter said, any attempt by the township to prevent construction or operation of a transloading site would be forbidden by a U.S. District Court.

    April 7, 2007
  9. kiffi summa said:

    There is an even broader concern than is recognized in the NF, D’das, B’water area on this subject…….Many , many people are concerned and worried about the rural character of our neighbors.
    Ron Nuebel’s high school class has chosen the impact of ethanol on the area for their presentation subject at the April 23 LWV 4th Monday meeting at the library. They chose between several subjects that would seem to be more”youth-oriented”, and picked ethanol as their preferred one.
    There IS very broad interest AND concern out there. We’re with you , Little Prairians!

    April 7, 2007
  10. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    The McFarland letter says “It is proposed that PGR purchase or lease that (300-acre) site, and develop it into a rail-truck transloading center. The center would include an auto marshalling facility, an aggregates transloading facility, a (coal) fly ash terminal and a municipal waste transloading facility.”

    Interesting that Northfield News does not mention these four uses in the Saturday article. Too ugly a mental picture for the reader? Also interesting is the emphasis they put on the Monsanto pro-ethanol interview. I would guess that is the position of the paper as well. There is only brief mention of the Jason Hill info.

    ABE sent the artist rendering (digital photo) which NNews chose to reproduce, rather than the schematic layout I gave them from the church meeting Nov. 4 which clearly shows the size relationships of the balloon track and ethanol plant. The Hatfield swamp areas look black on the digital, with a big patch of green (poplar trees they imagine will soak up the cooldown water). It is not reuse water, as indicated.

    Until Progressive Rail demonstrates it has the financing to buy the 300-acre site, once Advanced BioEnergy backs away from it, there is no reason to take the railroad posturing too seriously. Meanwhile, our township planning commission is proceeding with the ordinance writing.

    April 8, 2007
  11. Paul Jesh said:

    I have done quite a bit of research of communities around the nation fighting ethanol plant construction and railroad issues. It seems that they run in the same circles and depend somewhat on each other. There is a very similar issue taking place right now in Virginia involving Norfolk Southern railroad and the taking of land. The Board of Commissioners from that community wanted to pass a ordinance designed to blunt Norfolk Southern’s power of eminent domain which would enable it to take private land for a proposed intermodal rail facility, but county attorney Marty McMahon told the board this week that such an ordinance “would be invalid and would be unenforceable.” The Rail Act seems to allow the railroad to take any land the need (want) and escape lawsuits from rail accidents. Some of you think that it might be a bluff from the railroad about the site. I hope you are right but I have a sneaking suspicion this battle has just started. I hope to attend tonight’s board meeting with further information.

    April 10, 2007
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for that, Paul… an update on the meeting would be much appreciated!

    April 11, 2007
  13. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Paul Jesh,

    Saw a couple new faces last night, but not you. Dave Fellon did not come by after all. Supervisor Ebling reported on conversation with ABE rep who said they will back away from the ethanol if the township ordinance does not allow it. But they can extend the option and plan to buy the site in order to sell to the proposed industries and/or railroad (?) to recoup their costs. Something like that.

    I would guess that Norfolk Southern is a bigger railroad and the Virginia site may have the roads necessary for an intermodal facility, unlike ours. Progressive Rail claims to have a project going in Cannon Falls at the old Malting Plant, but not according to the locals. They were able to keep the rail from being torn up, but that’s about it at this point. Give me a call at 645-7086.

    April 11, 2007

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