Ruling won't stop BNSF rail yard

A federal judge ruled Friday against stopping construction at a rail yard in southwest Johnson County but left the matter open for consideration later.

Opponents of the project asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against BNSF Railway's intermodal facility in Edgerton. They argued that its destruction of wetlands would violate federal law.

But BNSF said that part of the project will not begin until August, and Judge Carlos Murguia noted that an injunction required a threat of imminent harm. He left it open to be considered later.

The ruling came after lawyers argued in his court in Kansas City, Kan., over issues related to construction of the $250 million freight yard, among the largest area development projects.

A group of local residents and a California environmental group have sued the Army Corps of Engineers and BNSF. They contend the corps did not properly comply with federal environmental laws before authorizing construction at the 490-acre site.

Mark Dugan, attorney for those residents, argued Friday that to fill in and destroy thousands of feet of streams and five acres of wetlands would violate federal law.

Melissa Lin Perrella, attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, based in California, argued that the corps should have done more study and an environmental impact statement for the project, which will bring in thousands of trucks to load goods from trains.

But Douglas Dalgleish, attorney for BNSF, said all local, state and federal authorities supported the corps' finding that the project would have no significant environmental impact.

He noted that the Kansas Legislature last year awarded the company a $35 million grant to help make it happen and create an estimated 8,700 jobs. Site preparation construction started in March, and delays would wipe out jobs and cost the rail company and the state money, he said.

The meandering stream that would be eliminated is unnamed and of poor water quality, he said.

"It is not some kind of pristine landmark," he said.

BNSF will also construct a conservation corridor to replace it that will include seven acres of wetlands, Dalgleish said.

"It will be vastly superior, an improvement from what exists now," he said.

The delay request and the issues are likely to surface again. The judge told lawyers he has read and heard their arguments and will be prepared.