Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sudden silos concern residents

Eight structures built at rail line

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Bert Alanffy has lived on Lindsay Street in River Heights all his life. He woke up one morning last week to find four 13-metre-high industrial silos staring him in the face across the street.

By day's end, there were four more metal silos. All eight were snug up against a rail line and there was no explanation to anyone.

"The rail line's not the problem. Maybe two trains pass through each day; it's a quiet line. The silos are another story," Alanffy said.

"I don't think they have the authority to do whatever they want," he said. "It's still within city limits and I own this property and I'm not entitled to do whatever I want."

Down the street, Alain Vermette called the silos an "eyesore... It's like someone erected a big ugly apartment block overnight without the residents having a say. And it is ugly," Vermette said.

Judy Plotkin said she has lived in River Heights for 50 years, and the sight of the silos stopped her cold.

"I got out of my car. I took pictures. It was surreal, odd and a scary experience. Industry has no business stepping into a residential community with no protocol, no environmental studies."

Lindsay Street residents echoed the complaints. They worry the silos were built to contain toxic chemicals. With no labels, it's impossible to tell.

The rail line is owned by BNSF Railway. The Fort Worth, Texas rail company is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the biggest freight rail networks in North America.

Rail spokeswoman Amy McBeth said by email Monday that the structures were erected in the middle of the rail yard by a shipper leasing property from BNSF Railway.

"Across our rail network, we lease property to customers who manage their facilities and operations. As part of those agreements, the customer secures any needed local requirements," McBeth said in the email.

She identified the Winnipeg leaseholders as Fort Distributors. On Monday night, a Fort Distributors executive said the company had reached out to River Heights city Coun. John Orlikow with information about the silos. He declined further comment while the matter is in the city's hands.

Orlikow said he spent the day raising the alarm at city hall in defence of residents' concerns.

Railways fall under federal jurisdiction, giving Ottawa the final say on goods and services related to rail transportation.

A Transport Canada spokesman said in an email Monday night the Railway Safety Act does not prohibit the rail company from installing silos beside the tracks, and these silos are on private property owned by Burlington Northern (Manitoba Ltd.).

Regardless of federal jurisdiction, Orlikow believes the rail company should have approached the city before dropping the silos in place.

"The city has no say about land use? I don't think so," Orlikow said.

By mid-afternoon, three separate city departments -- land use, planning and legal -- were looking into the issue, the councillor said.

Some residents believe the neighbourhood is a victim of cutthroat competition between rail and trucking conglomerates to move goods across the continent.

"They're trying to push the envelope. They put them up in the middle of the night. That's sneaky," one resident said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2012 B1

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