Coalition forms to campaign for quiet zone in JamestownThe Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with the Main Street Downtown Association and local residents to form a coalition advocating a yes vote for a quiet zone.
By: Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun
The Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with the Main Street Downtown Association and local residents to form a coalition advocating a yes vote for a quiet zone.
Chamber Executive Director JoDee Rasmusson said the Coalition for a Safe and Sound Jamestown was the result of a survey sent to members regarding a proposed quiet zone for the city’s railroad crossings. The survey found that 70 percent of the respondents favored the idea.
“We submitted a survey to 365 members and got back 150 responses,” Rasmusson said. “Because the survey was anonymous we got some very honest feedback. A couple of business owners downtown said they were seriously considering relocating.”
Residents voted down establishment of a quiet zone in June, but a petition of 1,200 signatures has brought it back as an initiated measure. Establishing a quiet zone will be voted on again April 7. A quiet zone means train horns would be silenced as they travel through the city.
Rasmusson said the survey found that several business owners downtown find it impossible to conduct business or even talk on the phone as the trains go through town. She added the noise is hurting downtown revitalization and that was a big motivation behind the chamber’s involvement.
“It was a wake-up call when businesses said they’d relocate,” she said. “Let’s not forget where we were just five years ago downtown.”
At that time, the Zappas building was a derelict and the McElroy building, now housing Babb’s Coffee House and Great Stories Book Shoppe, was empty. Several other buildings were empty or deteriorating. With redevelopment and remodeling efforts, downtown revitalization is moving forward, she said.
“Past surveys always said do something about the downtown,” said Dwaine Heinrich, a leader in efforts to get the quiet zone reconsidered. “We’ve had so many changes downtown in the last five years — so many advancements.”
“People start taking it for granted,” Rasmusson said.
“There goes the tax base if we allow the downtown to deteriorate again,” said Dan Bu-chanan, another leader in the quiet zone effort. “The Zappas was sold for taxes and it’s generating money in the community now. This is about economic development, safety and the viability of the community.”
Rasmusson sees the quiet zone as the next step in revitalization of the downtown as do the other members of the coalition.
Clearing up the misunderstandings and getting the word out on the benefits of the quiet zone is the coalition’s mission. One misunderstanding is in regard to the closure of the Third Avenue West railroad crossing. The City Council chose the least expensive quiet zone option to put on the ballot. That option closes the crossing. To keep it open as part of the zone would have cost $500,000. That was more than the $460,000 that the other five other crossings would cost together. Closing Third Avenue West is also part of the negotiation with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The railroad wants the crossing closed in exchange for easements to widen the downtown parking lots bordering the railroad tracks.
To help defray the cost of quiet zones, Senate Bill 2338 is making its way through the Legislature. Passed by the Senate, it is now in the House Finance and Taxation Committee. It’s expected to move out of the committee next week. If the legislation passes the House, it would pick up the tab for 90 percent or up to $500,000 of the cost of establishing a quiet zone. That would leave about $46,000 for the city to pay.
“We began looking at the issue again when we became aware of this bill,” Rasmusson said. “We wanted people to know the benefits of a quiet zone and possible funding from the state makes the project even more attractive.”
However, the ballot issue includes a city-wide special assessment to pay the $460,000. The cost to the property owner would be a total bill of $16.74 for a 7,000 square-foot lot or $2.20 a year for 10 years.
“Even without the state funding we’re still advocating the quiet zone as a beneficial project,” Rasmusson said.
Stutsman County Commissioner Dale Marks doesn’t support the legislation. He said the $6 million to fund quiet zones in the state would come out of the state’s Highway Trust Fund, which is needed for roads. To fund quiet zones, the legislation earmarks for two years the money paid by railroads in fuel taxes.
“We can’t afford to lose $1 of the maintenance money for counties,” Marks said. “Otherwise I’m in favor of the quiet zone. When my wife and I are walking down the street and a train goes by, well, my wife can’t read lips.”
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com