WORTHINGTON — With plans to spur economic development along the shortline railroad in Rock and Nobles counties, the Buffalo Ridge Regional Rail Authority, composed of Rock and Nobles County boards of commissioners, was presented with a recently completed site analysis during a joint meeting Tuesday morning. The engineering firm ISG completed the analysis.

Representatives from ISG, along with Dan Kippley of the Ellis & Eastern Railroad that operates the line, presented a report that shows four potential sites along the line could eventually be developed. Three of the sites are located west of Luverne in Rock County, with one site near Adrian in Nobles County.

“The main reason behind this is we wanted to work with (the Department of Employment and Economic Development) at the state level and also at the regional level,” Kippley said. “There’s always potential for state and federal grant opportunities and they often ask if a site analysis was done.”

The site analysis will ultimately be used to attract new businesses on the line.

Will Kratt, transportation practice group leader at ISG, said several criteria were used to determine the best sites for development, ranging from site distance to the railroad; parcel size; proximity to a hard-surface road, electric transmission and natural gas lines, as well as broadband; outside of a proposed windmill project area; within a federal opportunity zone (optional); and less than 1.5% slope on the parcel.

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Kippley said the site options could be used for anything from a fertilizer plant to an Amazon distribution center.

“If (people) are looking for rail, (DEED) needs to know what sites are available in this region,” he added.

Ellis & Eastern Railway was awarded a grant last year to do a significant upgrade to the shortline railroad, and Kippley said that work will be completed in the next several years.

“(Then) we’re going to be able to compete because we’ll be able to have larger rail cars on that line,” Kippley said. “Rail freight is going to be very integral in moving freight across the country. It starts at home. Local shippers need an option.”

In other business during their regular board meeting, commissioners:

  • Authorized the purchase of two new servers for the county’s Information Technology department, as well as two new storage units to be able to store data. The new servers will be purchased with proceeds in the county’s land integration fund, and it’s possible the new storage units could also be purchased with those funds.

  • Heard a request from IT Director Angelo Torres about the need for additional staffing.

“IT responsibilities and support has grown tremendously over the last two years and is falling behind on key projects,” Torres said. “We’re going to have some people retiring in the next few years. I’d rather plan for that ahead of time. The workload is already there today.”

Torres will include his request in his 2022 budget.

  • Accepted an agreement with Wenck Associates to assist with legislative communication regarding the proposed Reading community sewer project. Wenck presented an estimate of $65,150, which included the preliminary engineering report, response to comments and application to the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget, which have already been completed. Other fees included in the estimate are for assistance with the bonding bill tour and legislative support.

  • Approved a collaborative agreement regarding LiDAR flight information with neighboring counties, the state of Minnesota and the U.S. Geographical Service at a cost of $16,200.

  • Accepted a $10,000 operational enhancement grant from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to be used by the Nobles County Veterans Service Office for outreach to veterans.

  • Set the date to host a tax-forfeited land classification public meeting at 9 a.m. Oct. 5, in the Commissioner Room of the Nobles County Government Center, 315 10th St., Worthington.

  • Set a timeline to conduct a sale by sealed bid of a vacant lot at 108 Kentucky Ave., Adrian. Sealed bids will be due by 3 p.m. Sept. 2, with review by commissioners at their Sept. 7 meeting. The county spent $42,550 to acquire the nuisance property, demolish the structures and remove several trees and blight.