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Twins, rail company reach agreement

Twins, rail company reach agreement

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MINNEAPOLIS -- More than a century ago, the laying down of railroad tracks was one of the milestone developments in Minneapolis's transition from a little flour milling town on the banks of a big river to a major American city. In 2007, it's an agreement to move some railroad tracks that is proving to be a milestone as Minneapolis moves closer to the next generation of Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Twins officials announced that they had reached an agreement with BNSF, the railway that has tracks currently running along the northwest side of the site upon which the new Minneapolis ballpark is to be built. The agreement calls for the tracks to be moved several feet closer to the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, which sits adjacent to the ballpark. This will allow more room for the ballpark while ensuring that the railroad's operations will not be interrupted.

Due to the compact nature of the site, which is north of Target Center in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis, original ballpark designs called for trains to run beneath a portion of the ballpark. Moving the tracks will mean a simplification of the construction process and that less of the ballpark will extend over the active railway.

According to Twins president Dave St. Peter, the agreements with BNSF and Hennepin County's move on Tuesday to begin "quick take" proceedings to acquire the land are big developments.

"This is a huge step, and what we hope is the final piece of the puzzle," said St. Peter. "It's all very good news as we remain focused on staying on time and on budget, and working toward April 2010."

BNSF had agreed to move the tracks earlier in the negotiation process, but was seeking some language to ensure that trains could continue to move freely over this section of track. Steve Forsberg, a spokesperson for the railway, said their issues were primarily with things like liability in case of train accidents in the vicinity of the ballpark. He noted that BNSF has tracks running very close to Safeco Field in Seattle, and some of the same issues have been dealt with there.

"The local FOX station in Seattle just did a piece about how the train horns are part of the ballpark's ambience there," said Forsberg. "We take safety very seriously, and there's a cooperative agreement that we have in place with [Seattle] that works very well."

Forsberg said that like all of their rail lines in the Twin Cities, the tracks running near the ballpark site are fairly heavily used around the clock, hauling things such as truck trailers and grain. He said he didn't know whether train horns would be part of the ambiance at the new facility, noting that absent vehicle or pedestrian crossings in the vicinity of the new ballpark, conductors would have no reason to sound their horns.

A few blocks south of the tracks, at the Hennepin County Government Center, commissioners officially began the "quick take" process by which the ballpark land will be condemned, purchased at fair market value, and developed. Step one was depositing a check for $13.755 million into a court escrow account -- a move that was approved by the county board on Tuesday.

That process was initiated after the county and then private owners of the land were unable to reach an agreement on what both sides felt was a fair price for the parcel.

"To this point, the county could not reach a negotiated sale with the landowners and avoid condemnation proceedings," said Hennepin County commissioner Mike Opat in a statement. "With today's action, the county and the Twins will energetically engage in the condemnation process, while always leaving open the possibility that the landowners will reconsider their position and begin serious negotiations."

Much of the site is currently a paved parking lot that is used by a few hundred commuters each day. The remaining people who pay to park there were given notice in April that the parking lot would no longer be available by the end of May. According to St. Peter, the expiration of those remaining parking contracts later this month will open the door for contractors to begin clearing and prepping the site for construction. Twins officials said they expect to hold a formal groundbreaking ceremony later in the summer.

Jess Myers is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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