Judge backs $250 million Edgerton rail yard project

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A federal judge has ruled against environmentalists in their battle to force the government to set aside a permit for a sprawling $250 million rail yard under construction in Edgerton in southwest Johnson County.

U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia handed down a 20-page opinion in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant the BNSF Railway project a permit.

"The court finds that the corps sufficiently examined the environmental impacts of the proposed facility," he wrote.

A coalition of environmental groups and several individuals went to court to challenge the federal permit that allowed BNSF to move ahead with the 443-acre rail yard proposed for a site in Edgerton.

The rail hub, along with a proposed warehouse complex next door, is one of the area's biggest economic development projects. Covering about 1,000 acres, the entire project is expected to produce hundreds of millions of dollars in new development and create thousands of jobs.

Kansas gave the project $35 million in tax incentives and is funding a new interchange on I-35.

"We agree with the judge's thorough and well-reasoned decision," said BNSF spokesman Andy Williams.

Mark Dugan, the plaintiffs' lawyer, disagreed with the ruling.

"It's a big win for BNSF and their political supporters, but we'll see if that's the last word," he said.

Dugan said he needs to meet with his clients to discuss the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

The plaintiffs wanted the corps to conduct a more expansive environmental review than it did when it found that the project wouldn't have a significant environmental impact.

Dugan said the corps relied too heavily on information provided by the railroad in making its conclusions about the project.

Among other things, the federal lawsuit contended that the corps underestimated emissions from the rail yard and warehouse complex, which are expected to attract heavy truck traffic.

The project is important to the development of Edgerton, which has just more than 1,800 residents and a handful of businesses, said Michael Press, interim city administrator.

Work on the project began in the spring and is to be completed by late 2013.

At one point, opponents tried to get a judge to block work, but failed to get an injunction.