A local rail safety group is claiming the DNR broke the law when it issued the Army Corps of Engineers a permit to begin construction of a second rail line through the La Crosse River Marsh.
CARS, or Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, filed a civil lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources, claiming the department failed to require an environmental impact statement before issuing the permit.
"The process the DNR went through was not open and fair," Maureen Freedland, a member of CARS, said. "We could have had a hearing, we could have been notified by the DNR, instead of finding through the back door that this incidental-take permit was applied for that we didn't know about."
Freedland said throughout the process of putting a second track through the marsh, BNSF has said to have a "good neighbor attitude" with the local communities it engages with for these expansion projects.
Freedland said the decision to begin construction during a peak nesting time for black terns, isn't so neighborly.
"They said all along they knew the black tern nesting period was a reason not to do construction in the marsh between May and July," she said. "Now we find out through the back door that a permit was issued to do construction in the marsh during this period."
While the lawsuit won't halt construction on the new rail line, CARS said it hopes the suit will change the way the DNR issues permits.
"It's about holding the DNR accountable here and in other places," Freedland said. "We want them to do a full analysis of the marsh, even at this time."
Current DNR law requires the department to complete a equivalent analysis of the surrounding environment, but the advocacy group wants a more thorough analysis.
"They used to be required to do a full on environmental impact study," Freedland said. "Now this is just an easy way to get projects approved."