For years, Robert Narf and other neighbors of the Royster-Clark property on Madison's east side have inveighed against the movement of railroad cars to and from the property ("The Factory Next Door," 3/17/06). Even now that the plant is closed and up for sale, the problem persists, with cars being brought back and forth from Cottage Grove and left for days at a time.
"We've become a freight yard," says Narf, a former Madison police officer who lives on Sargent Street. "It's a hell of an eyesore." He also fears the cars - sometimes two dozen at a time - may pose risks to neighborhood children.
The track is owned by Union Pacific and leased by Wisconsin & Southern Railroad.
Madison Ald. Judy Compton, in a recent e-mail, said train traffic to and from Cottage Grove has increased to where this is "definitely challenging the right to peaceful enjoyment of the residents of my district." She asked the city to file a complaint.
In reply, Assistant City Attorney Steve Brist said the city "cannot enforce regulations regarding the time of day of use of tracks, use of whistles, the number of times trains use a track, or [impose] other restrictions...without creating a conflict with federal law."
Ald. Larry Palm, whose district includes Royster-Clark, asked about barring train storage near homes, schools and parks and was told this too is not doable. "Seems that Eugene Parks tried this a number of years ago, and it was not legal then," he wrote Narf.
Royster-Clark is now owned by Agrium, the Canadian agricultural behemoth. Spokeswoman Lisa Parker says the company does not own the main rail line adjacent to the property, so "we don't have a say in how that is used." As for the spur line that extends onto the Royster-Clark site, Agrium has "an existing agreement with the railroad that allows them to use that."
Wait a minute: Does that mean whoever buys the property might have to let Wisconsin & Southern park trains there well into the future? Parker says potential buyers will be made aware of any such agreements, but offered no further information about the terms or duration.
Calls to Wisconsin & Southern's Madison office (243-9101) were not returned.