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Save the Northfield Depot: Laying the Groundwork

The Save the Northfield Depot group provides an update on the process.

Editor's note: Submitted by Alice Thomas of the Save the Northfield Depot.


After the signing of the agreement with the City of Northfield in June for the transfer of two city lots on the Q-block, the effort to “Save the Northfield Depot” has advanced on many fronts. The title clearance is in process; the soil tests for contaminants have been completed; and the fundraising has started.

On July 10, 2012, the Northfield City Council voted to approve the EDA’s request for a total of $14,000 EDA funds to finance the Phase II environmental assessment and necessary title clearance for the city-owned land on the Q-block, the future home of the 1888 Northfield depot. Noted in the discussions of both bodies was the recognition that environmental assessment and title clearance would need to be completed for any future redevelopment project on the site.


Clearing the Title

Title clearance is required for any transfer of the land. When the land was previously owned by railroads, the clearance process is more complex but routine, as confirmed by Canadian Pacific, the current owner of the adjacent railroad property.  From about 1866 until 1979 the land was owned by various railroads, most of which do not exist today. During those 100 plus years, the railroad companies allowed easements to various entities (e.g., businesses in the area, the City) and also used the land as collateral on loans. The title to the land has never been cleaned up; i.e., clearing the easements and establishing that there are no outstanding loans. The Save the Northfield Depot attorney is currently working on the necessary paperwork with the railroad, the City and a local bank. 


Cleaning Up the Site

Because of the typical activity around and on railroad sites, Save the Northfield Depot expected contaminates that would need to be addressed. The site was transferred from the railroad to the city about 35 years ago when the tracks were abandoned. Such areas typically have contaminants from the coal cinders used by the old steam engines and creosote from the wood ties as well as possible spillage from its loads and related surrounding businesses.

Save the Northfield Depot had received a preliminary analysis of the metals in the soil last spring when a St. Olaf chemistry class completed some borings on the site. With the recent comprehensive information about the exact contaminants, STND can now work with an environmental expert to create a clean-up plan for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Once this plan has been approved, assistance can be sought for any necessary clean-up from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in May 2013.

Although the contaminants were not minimal and do require some remedial action, Save the Northfield Depot believes that they are workable and will not affect our plans in a major way. Portions of the site report provided some interesting information about the sources. The report speculated that some contaminants were likely from a Shingle Shop that was located on the site from 1890-1910 and also from a gasoline container at one time. One of the most interesting report findings, however, was that a boring near the site of the proposed depot “indicated that the area was a wetland at one time, so once you get down 8-10 feet there is a large deposit of what was fondly referred to as ‘loon poo’.”


Raising the Funds

A major capital fundraising effort has started to reach the $293,000 goal necessary to move and repair the depot building. About $45,000 has been raised towards that goal including funds from the Economic Development Authority and the Northfield Area Foundation; applications for state and national grants are in process. Some of the funding has been expended for expert services such legal work and asbestos inspection.

For those who wish to contribute to the fundraising effort, the Save the Northfield Depot website, Northfielddepot.org, includes a “donate” button as well as photos, videos of Northfield residents recalling memories of trains, and “frequently asked questions” about the project and other information.

In addition to the activity of Save the Northfield Depot, a portion of the City land for the depot is under consideration as one of the three potential Transit Hub sites: Laurel Court, Babcock Park and the Q-Block. Rob Martin, co-chair of Save the Northfield Depot notes that the Q-Block location would benefit all parts of the city due to its centrality, and would also benefit the various modes of transportation because of its straight-through drive access for easy drop-off and pick-up. The above “after” sketch illustrates that feature.

After almost of year of working to finalize the future site of the building, Save the Northfield Depot is excited about moving ahead by completing the fund drive in a year and preparing the depot building in the fall of 2013 for the move and restoration in the spring of 2014. Northfielders are encouraged to follow the fund raising progress on a giving “thermometer” to be placed soon on the new Q-block site.

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