CHAMBERLAIN - Dakota Southern Railroad is in hot water with the Mitchell to Rapid City Regional Railroad Authority Board.
Several issues involving Dakota Southern, including a dispute with a landowner, noxious weed issues and a violation regarding hazardous materials, led to stern recommendations from the MRC board and its legal representation on Thursday.
"We're sliding downhill with Dakota Southern," MRC's attorney, Ken Cotton, said. "If you guys want to operate here, you need to resolve your issues."
In September, a citizen submitted a complaint to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) alleging that Dakota Southern Railroad failed to expedite the movement of rail cars containing liquefied petroleum gas, thus violating a private track agreement. The cars were stored for more than 48 hours in Chamberlain and Kennebec, according to a letter submitted to the board from a safety inspector.
An ensuing investigation by the FRA found the trainmaster instructed a crew to place the loaded train cars in storage on an industry track where they were not authorized to be. He also instructed them to move the cars from private track to allow other cars to travel through.
Both instructions violated federal regulations, according to the FRA, and two recommendations for civil penalties, totaling 12 counts, were submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Chief Council. That recommendation was later re-evaluated and reduced to one civil penalty, totaling 11 counts, according to Dakota Southern's Vice President of Operations Heath Haden.
"We're doing everything we can to move those cars safely, those cars are safe to move. I think the frenzy of it gets a little bit blown out of proportion for what it is," Haden said.
The situation has fractured relations between Brule County officials and Dakota Southern, which was apparent at Thursday's meeting in Chamberlain.
Brule County Emergency Manager Kathryn Benton said the county was unaware Dakota Southern intended to bring hazardous material into the county until the day after the act was completed.
"When you bring 88 cars of butane into my county and let me know the day after you drop them, it's going to get blown out of proportion," Benton said. "If you would let us know what you're going to do before you're going to do it ... If you had told us ahead of time, things would have been different."
Dustin Buntrock, rail manager for South Dakota Wheat Growers, said Wheat Growers was also unaware of the cars.
The crew that was involved in leaving the train cars in question is "no longer with" Dakota Southern, Haden said, adding that he believes the crews were "running short on time," resulting in the violation.
"It was just a lapse," he said. "We had some issues with that crew and the crew is no longer with us. We took care of the situation, and the FRA told us they are more than happy with how we handled it."
Dakota Southern was also put on the hot seat Thursday during a heated discussion about an ongoing dispute regarding a fire that destroyed 120 trees on Larry and Shelly Overweg's property in Kimball.
Since the fire on Jan. 25, 2014, the landowners and Dakota Southern have yet to reach an agreement on reimbursement, thanks to elusiveness from Dakota Southern, according to the Overwegs' attorney, Steve Fox, of Larson Law Office in Chamberlain.
Due to the extended timeline without a resolution to the issue, the MRC Regional Railroad Authority Board intends to present the issue to state rail board at its meeting on Dec. 20. The MRC board will return with a recommendation for a timeline for the two entities to come to a conclusion before imposing a surcharge.
"It looks like you've been shuffling this matter under the rug and you could give a rat's rip about what happens," Cotton said. "It's time to get some really big stuff done."