Council asks for delay of depot demolition

Published on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine city officials want Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway to wait on the planned demolition of the Blaine train depot until the future of rail service in Blaine is clearer.

A study done by the Seattle-based Cascadia Center, a nonprofit transportation policy group, lists Blaine as a possible stop on a proposed commuter rail line between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, B.C. The 100-year-old train depot that currently sits near the intersection of the railroad tracks and Marine Drive has been considered a possible spot for Blaine’s commuter rail line station.

With this possibility in mind, the Blaine City Council has directed city manager Gary Tomsic to write a letter to BNSF saying the depot demolition should wait until the city has a better idea of whether rail service can happen in Blaine. Tomsic said Cascadia Center policy director Bruce Agnew is in the process of tracking down state and federal grants that could help fund the rail line.
“There’s a pretty good likelihood of [the rail line] happening,” Tomsic said.

According to the Cascadia Center, the station would serve self-propelled commuter rail cars, which are less expensive than the cars Amtrak uses, and be run in part by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

However, the renovation of the historic depot is estimated to cost nearly $500,000, and neither the city of Blaine nor the local community groups in favor of the depot’s restoration have a concrete plan for funding the necessary upgrades.

If the rail line can move forward, Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon said the best, but not only, option for a station would be the renovated train depot. However, the city simply cannot invest in restoring the depot on its own. Community members will have to step in and provide most if not all the funds necessary to restore the depot, Onyon said.

“In concept, we’re certainly behind it as a [city] council,” Onyon said.

City council member John Liebert said he wants one of the local groups in favor of preserving the depot to write a letter to the city with a date by which they can restore the station. He said BNSF has done something concrete in submitting a demolition permit application, while the community groups have not.

Bill Becht, a representative from Citizens for Blaine Station Preservation, said the city is right in starting to negotiate with BNSF to delay the planned demolition.

Becht said Blaine officials need to continue to reach out to BNSF and persuade the railway of how profitable a restored and active Blaine depot could be.

“The city needs to push [BNSF] harder,” Becht said.

Becht said he thinks a commuter rail stop would be a boon to the local economy. He has talked with several Canadians who have said they would cross the border to hop on a commuter rail to Seattle or other stops along the route.

Becht said he is willing to donate a few thousand dollars to support the depot’s renovation. If half the funds for renovating the depot can be acquired through state grants, Becht said he’s confident the rest could be collected via donations.

If it comes down to money, I think it’s doable,” Becht said. “Everybody needs to rally together because [preserving the depot] is important.”