A report by an economic consultant commissioned by the Arizona State Land Department says that state trust land adjacent to acreage being considered for sale to Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for a switching yard would be affected by the sale and that infrastructure improvements to adjacent land should be paid for by the purchaser of the rail yard property.
Produced by Gruen Gruen + Associates, the report was designed to give the State Land Department a review of existing reports that had been conducted by Union Pacific in its effort to purchase 900 acres of state trust land for the rail yard.
The State Land Department manages a total of 1.2 million acres of trust land in Pinal County, but the other state trust parcels in the vicinity of the proposed land for sale to Union Pacific are comprised of several sections of land. A section of land 640 acres.
The report noted that because the sale of the land for the Classification Yard (switching yard) would generate negative impacts, the department should consider establishing an “impact zone within which feasible mitigation measures should be considered.” It identified an impact zone around the 900 acres as “an area within one-half to a mile of the proposed Classification Yard that will experience negative environmental, property value and other impacts.”
The switching yard would be located northeast of Union Pacific’s current right of way and west of W. Kodial Road, across from the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch in Picacho. The property being sought is approximately 6 miles long and about a mile wide. It could accommodate up a yard up to 74 tracks wide.
UP has stated it needs a site that is longer instead of wider because the railroad needs room for locomotives and trains to decelerate and stop safely, and then accelerate to get back onto the main line.
“If we were to put the land up for auction,” said Vanessa Hickman, deputy state land commissioner, “we would make sure to get an economic return for the trust land and the infrastructure necessary to serve that land and other state trust lands adjacent to it.”
Hickman noted infrastructure improvements could include freeway interchanges, transportation access to other state trust land parcels, drainage, water and wastewater considerations.
She added that the cost of such improvements should be reflected in the purchase price of the 900 acres of state trust land being sought by UP, if the State Land Department decides to put the land on the auction block. If the cost of improvements were not included in the sale price, “then the cost of infrastructure would have to be assessed to (adjacent) parcels when we go to sell them in the future.”
Union Pacific’s director of corporate relations and media Aaron Hunt said in an email that UP is reviewing the Gruen Gruen report and “we plan to continue to work closely with the State Land Department to purchase the property, but there is no time line for that process.”
Pinal County government remains solidly behind the proposed purchase of the property by Union Pacific, according to David Snider, Pinal County supervisor for District 3.
“What I read from the report is that the anticipated rail yard would have a deleterious effect and negative impact on other state trust land in the area,” Snider said. “So the issue is the cost of properly mitigating that effect on adjacent properties.”
Snider noted that Pinal County amended its Comprehensive Plan in 2006 when the proposed switching yard was seen to be an economic engine for the area.
“We have been an active participant in discussions with Union Pacific and the State Land Department,” Snider said, “mainly because the site is in unincorporated Pinal County. If the land were to be sold to Union Pacific, the construction of the rail yard, he added, “will be done under Pinal County regulations.”
He pointed out, “We have a site plan review process that deals with elements of domestic water, waste water, drainage, flood and storm water issues, and transportation issues.”
Hickman noted the next step would be to set up meetings with Pinal County and Union Pacific officials to “decide what allocation of the costs of infrastructure would be and who would pay for them.”
She said she expected those meetings would occur early in October “with everybody at the table.” However, Hickman stressed, “ We do not have a timetable set for making a decision on auctioning the property.”