The South Dakota Railroad Board normally goes straight ahead but took some unusual turns Wednesday.
The six members invited the Marshall Regional Railroad Authority to borrow up to $250,000 for replacing a box culvert.
The project is up in North Dakota.
And no one could recall the last time the board’s railroad bridge across the Missouri River between Chamberlain and Oacoma received an inspection.
An underwater inspection, that is.
Board members rolled $17,500 more into a contract the state Department of Transportation already had in the works for underwater inspections of highway bridges.
One set of those bridges covered by the contract is Interstate 90 across the Mighty Mo, upriver just a mile or so.
An underwater inspection for the railroad bridge wasn’t contemplated in the current lease that Dakota Southern Railway has to run trains west of Mitchell on what’s known as the MRC line.
Retired railroader Alex Huff, a past owner of Dakota Southern, said no one has gone down for a subsurface look since before 1987, the year he started hauling loads.
The state board voted 5-1 to pay for the underwater work on a one-time basis.
“And we address it next time,” Todd Yeaton of Kimball, the board’s chairman, said. Harlan Quenzer of Mitchell cast the nay.
Joel Jundt, state government’s deputy secretary of transportation, steered the board through the bridge deal. Jundt, Yeaton, board member Sheldon Cotton of Volga and Karla Engle, the board’s lawyer, teamed up to pull together the Marshall authority loan.
The board authorized the culvert in March. The question Wednesday was who pays.
Yeaton suggested the money be a state loan rather than a grant.
Cotton suggested the authority could use its tax authority to repay the loan – an idea that Yeaton in turn described as “awesome.”
South Dakota owns the railroad line that runs northeast from Aberdeen, through Britton in Marshall County, and continues to Geneseo Junction in North Dakota.
Along the way the line cuts across the Richland Sargent drainage in North Dakota. The culvert is a replacement that would allow more water to flow.
“The drainage was there before the railroad came through,” Jundt said. “We got to do it.”
Engle agreed. “We have this obligation,” she said.
The state board leases the Britton line to the Marshall authority. The authority then subleases the line to the Dakota Missouri Valley and Western Railroad.
The railroad can haul loads from the Britton elevator south to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line at Aberdeen, or north to the Canadian Pacific route across North Dakota
Jundt opened the meeting Wednesday with a report on the board’s trust fund. He said there was about $8 million as of July 1.
He said the balance would be at about $4 million by June 30, 2018 – and less if the board made any additional commitments in the coming months.
Yeaton brought that information back into the discussion about the drainage culvert.
“Stuff rolls downhill,” Yeaton said. “So we’re pinned down. We don’t have much choice.”
Yeaton suggested the culvert money be a loan to the Marshall authority. “I don’t like grants – at all – especially when we have nothing,” he said.
Engle backed him up. “I think it’s an extraordinary expense,” she said.
The loan could be repaid through a per-car surcharge that would continue after the Marshall authority pays off its existing debt to the board, Yeaton said. The Marshall authority’s board borrowed money for the new grain-loading facility in Britton.
Engle suggested the board invite the authority to apply for another loan for the North Dakota culvert. Quenzer made the motion, which the board unanimously approved.
“It’s still our track,” Yeaton said. “That’s the thing.”