Trains

A Union Pacific freight train passing by South Baker Intermediate School.

More than 50 people who support a proposal to stop freight trains from blowing their whistles at crossings in Baker City made their case to the City Council Tuesday night.

Councilors voted 6-0 to direct city staff to file a notice of intent to apply for a Quiet Zone designation.

There is no cost to file the notice of intent, and it doesn’t obligate the city to file an application.

Dennis Dougherty and Peter Fargo, Baker City residents and members of the group promoting a quiet zone, Neighbors for a Safer, Quieter and Healthier Baker City, presented a slideshow explaining what a Quiet Zone is, and listing ways that train whistles can affect people. They focused mainly on students at South Baker Intermediate School, which is next to the railroad tracks.

Anna Fargo, who’s also a member of the group, discussed the health effects of train whistles. They can reach 110 decibels, she said, and the World Health Organization recommends 54 decibels “to avoid adverse health impacts” and “44 (decibels) at night for good sleep.”

Quiet Zone advocates submitted a petition signed by more than 230 residents, as well as several letters in support of the proposal.

Carrie Folkman, owner of Mountain View RV Park on Hughes Lane, submitted a letter and she also spoke to councilors Tuesday. In her letter, Folkman wrote that some of her guests, in online reviews, wrote that they were bothered by train whistles.

“I have also had customers call the office and ask if we are located near the tracks,” Folkman wrote. “While we are located over half a mile from the rail line, the horns blow in such a manner that we might as well be. This face has negatively impacted my business.”

Others attending Tuesday’s meeting voiced concerns about train whistles harming South Baker students’ health and interfering with their ability to learn.

Baker School District Superintendent Mark Witty and school board member Julie Huntington wrote a letter to the Council supporting the Quiet Zone proposal.

Councilor Ken Gross said he wants to see closer to a majority of people supporting the Quiet Zone. He also would like to see citizens help raise money to make a Quiet Zone possible.

To qualify for a Quiet Zone, the city would have to install new equipment at railroad crossings to ensure vehicles can’t get to the tracks. La Grande, which recently received a Quiet Zone designation, is spending about $200,000 for its five crossings, the same number as in Baker City.

Quiet Zone proponents say that eliminating train whistles would improve safety due to the upgrades at crossings.

In other business Tuesday, County Commissioner Chairman Bill Harvey told councilors about the county’s plan to hire an employee to coordinate economic development efforts in the city and county.

The coordinator’s primary function will be “to focus on the establishment, implementation and follow through of business development efforts designed to increase the number of family wage jobs in Baker County.”

Commissioners this summer ended the county’s contract with economic developer Greg Smith.

Councilors on Tuesday also:

• Recommended the Oregon Liquor Control Commission approve a liquor license for a brewery that John Coop and Twila Lavery plan to open next spring in the basement of the Ison House, 1790 Washington Ave.

• Tabled a discussion about asking voters to make changes to the city charter related to the requirement that voters approve the sale of city property.

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