The Legislature has stepped into Union Pacific Railroad's attempts to run roughshod over Arizona landowners - a needed intervention on the side of those who are virtually powerless against the rail giant.
Union Pacific plans an enormous switching yard directly across Interstate 10 from Picacho Peak, a popular state park that is resplendent with wild- flowers each spring.
The plan has substantial opposition from farmers, landowners, visitors to the park and those who stay at a nearby RV resort.
That meant little to Union Pacific, which planned to ignore critics and use its power of eminent domain to take over state land and build the switching yard.
Now the Legislature has stepped in.
The Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee voted unanimously last week to require that railroads receive approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission to use eminent-domain authority to compel the sale of land.
Under HB 2020, the commission would be required to consider whether the railroad had evaluated alternative routes and factored in economic and environmental matters before moving to condemn the land.
That clearly has not been done in the case of the switching yard near Picacho Peak.
While Union Pacific says the 585-acre rail yard would bring 200 jobs from Tucson to Pinal County, there are well-founded fears that its diesel residue will taint desert flora and fauna and infiltrate the aquifer.
The state Parks Board spent $265,000 and bought 10 acres last year to protect views from Picacho Peak. The board has deemed the railroad yard "clearly not compatible with a state landmark park."
The proposed switching yard also would be on top of a Central Arizona Project groundwater recharge site. A large number of standing trains that drip fuel and oil isn't compatible with water recharge.
It is understandable why Union Pacific picked the site. It's already level and lacks washes and riverbeds, making it inexpensive for the railroad to develop.
An independent review by the Arizona Corporation Commission is needed to ensure that any such decision is made on factors in addition to those most favorable to the railroads.
HB 2020 is a reasonable bill that would prevent the powerful, multistate railroads from using the power of eminent domain to cause havoc to people who otherwise would not have the means to fight them.
And it would ensure that factors such as the environment become part of what could easily be a money-only decision.
Tucson AZ Citizen: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com