Friday catch-up: Explosive trains, polluted wells, sign rebellion

we buy housesHat tip to Alan Muller for linking to a scary train story: The Omaha World-Herald reports that the Union Pacific Railroad has applied for a permit to haul liquefied natural gas (LNG), which would make it the first railroad to haul this highly combustible product. The proceedings before the Federal Railroad Administration are still secret, but somebody leaked the news. While Union Pacific is headquartered in Omaha, its 435 miles of Minnesota track run through the Twin Cities, as well as Worthington, Albert Lea, Northfield and other southern Minnesota cities. According to the Omaha newspaper:

“If Union Pacific is granted the permit, it would be a first. The Association of American Railroads said none of the six other Class I freight railroads are hauling liquefied natural gas.

“The permit application coincides with a major bump in railway ethanol and crude oil cargo, which has attracted heavy opposition after a fatal oil train explosion in Canada in 2013 and three oil train fires so far this year in the United States and one in Canada.”

The newspaper quotes a DePaul University prof as calling the timing of the permit application “awkward.” Ya think? [More on oil trains here and here.]

Meanwhile, as spring rolls on toward planting and fertilizing season, the Star Tribune reports on several southern Minnesota towns where high nitrate levels make the water unsafe to drink. Tony Kennedy writes:

“Located just 18 miles west of Worthington — where Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to talk Thursday about requiring farm buffer strips to clean up Minnesota streams, rivers and lakes — Adrian is one of eight Minnesota communities relying on special equipment to treat water with excessive nitrate levels in municipal wells.”

The town’s water purification equipment has just failed for the second time, so the town is giving out vouchers for free bottled water. Other towns use a variety of solutions, according to Kennedy, including mixing water from nitrate-polluted wells with cleaner water to get the total contamination down to safe levels. Meanwhile, back in St. Paul, agribusiness lobbyists are fighting hard to defeat the buffer strip legislation. [More on Minnesota water, rivers and lakes here and here.]

Bill Lindeke’s column about illegal signs was a high point of the week’s reading — somebody else hates all of those ugly and illegal signs! You know the ones: We buy houses for cash, As I dug a little deeper, I discovered a number of local bloggers (Ed Kohler, Jeff Skrenes, Johnny Northside) have already written about their personal wars on spam signs. (Some include home-made garage sale signs as spam, but I consider those a public benefit.)

Lindeke says the “We buy houses” signs are part of a predatory lending operation targeting low-income homeowners who are having trouble making their mortgage payments. The solution?

“Other than educating homeowners to the point where fly-by-night lenders no longer have an audience, the main thing cities can do is encourage more people to take the signs down on their own.”

I’m in — how about you?

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