SUPERIOR, Wis. — City leaders are demanding rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe resume payments to residents affected by taconite dust on their properties after many of the cleanup checks were halted this summer.
The Superior City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on BNSF to resume the payments it “suspended without notice or reason.”
“I am still in communication with the railroad, I am still optimistic that we will come to a solution that is fair to the residents that are most impacted by the dust on their homes and their property,” said Council Member Jenny Van Sickle, who represents the Allouez neighborhood and said she is meeting with railroad officials again next week.
BNSF had for decades compensated homeowners near the Allouez Taconite Facility on the east edge of town to help offset the cost of cleaning dust that builds up on walls and windows, inside and out. Those yearly payments averaged between $200 to $500 to about 200 households.
But only about 24 residents in the neighborhood received payments this year after the company said it had “identified irregularities that resulted in some claims being paid that were not anywhere near the Allouez facility.”
Van Sickle spoke about an 82-year-old resident with heart problems who isn’t able to clean the dust from her home herself and counts on the yearly payments to pay someone to power-wash her property.
Another resident said they received this response from BNSF after submitting their claim earlier this year: “BNSF Railway Company has determined that the power wash/cleanup costs … are the responsibility of the property owners, not BNSF. As a result, BNSF is immediately suspending the processing and payment of all property claims.”
Payments began in the 1970s following court battles over the dust, though there is no signed agreement that ensures the payments continue. Each homeowner must submit a claim and negotiate the payment each year.
Van Sickle estimated the annual payments average about $70,000 per year.
The Allouez Taconite Facility is the largest iron ore dock in the Twin Ports, with stockpile capacity of more than 5 million tons of taconite.
BNSF reported a $1.1 billion profit in the second quarter.
Council Member Keith Kern implored residents and fellow council members to “just take a walk through those neighborhoods and see what people are dealing with.”