The Clay County Commissioners conducted a special meeting Monday afternoon to officially kick off the beginning of the project and outline the scope of work through a teleconference with all parties involved.
"The ground work is being laid for something potentially great to happen in the near future," Commissioner Jack Withers told The Brazil Times. "There is still the waiting period while the study is being done, but it is an incredible opportunity for the growth of the county."
The commissioners and Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering, Terre Haute, which will conduct the United States Department of Agriculture rail study, officially entered into a contract for the work March 26. Although the contract is for $250,000 ($200,000 from the USDA and a $50,000 match from the county), the contract set $22,500 aside for additional services outside of its current terms.
"We set that amount back for additional work, which may need to be done after we get the study started," HWC Project Manager Brian Pohlar said. "We have the main scope lined out, but other things may come up during the process and this ensures we have some funds available should we need it."
Pohlar said Accu-Air Surveys, Inc., Seymour, Ind., has already conducted a flyover of the site to take aerial photography before tree leaves and other vegetation in the area begin to blossom.
"It allows us to get a better view of the area for us to take a look at possible options for both Clay and Vigo counties," Pohlar said about the mine property, which is in both counties. "The future economic development of the area is like a big crystal ball right now because we don't know just yet what can be done."
Scott Burgins, Senior Project Manager for Strategic Development Group (SDG), Bloomington, said two of the options at the current time are to create a full-blown business park or a depot for multiple industries to share the land.
"What we want to do is figure out the best use of the land should the rail be running," Burgins said. "A business park is our first option, but the big benefit of the area is its close link to the Interstate."
With the flyover completed, some of the fieldwork has already begun, but URS Corporation, Decatur, Ill., Rail Infrastructure Manager Richard Schroeder said a big focus of the study is slated to begin next week.
"We are going to go in and analyze rail issues, like wear, broken joints and ties, and bridges in the area, and we will create a condition report breaking down the issues and the estimated repair costs per mile," he said. "We will get started on the fieldwork April 13, hopefully before the vegetation can sprout up in the area."
Schroeder said it would take about four days to walk the approximate 12 miles of rail on the property, which is mainly owned by Resource Land Holdings, Colorado Springs, Colo., and three days to do the analysis of the bridges. He added both projects will be worked on concurrently.
One potential issue, which the study will be looking into, is the presence of the Indiana Bat (myotis sodalis), which has been on the Endangered Species list since March 11, 1967.
"The property owners of the facility requested we do a survey to find if they are present, and if they are, it can affect the possibility of future construction on the site, "Eco-Tech Consultants, Inc., Jeffersonville, Ind., Principal Scientist/President Lee Droppelman said. "We will most likely conduct the survey in June, which is when the Indiana Bat is more prominent."
Droppelman said four mistnet sites would be set up in possible travel corridors and the success rate of catching one is about 10 percent.
"If we happen to catch a female or juvenile bat, we will attach a transmitter to it for tracking purposes and determine if a Maternity Colony is present," he said. "If one is found, we would have to consult the United State Fish and Wildlife Service and may have to set up a special preservation area before construction could begin. It could present a significant delay in development, which could be up to a year."
Pohlar said cursory evaluations are planned to determine if there are other environmental concerns in the area.
However, the fact the study is underway has the commissioners excited at the prospect of bringing new industry and jobs to the county.
"With the recent announcement of the KIHM expansion in addition to this, there are a lot of great things happening," Commissioners' President Charlie Brown said. "It brings the possibility of new growth, jobs and an increased tax base, which could lessen the burden on residents."
The application process for the grant began in December 2007, and after nearly a year-and-a-half of waiting, Commissioner Paul Sinders is anxiously awaiting the results of the study, which Pohlar said should take about six months to complete.
"I'm excited that we are actually starting the study to see if we can utilize the rail system," Sinders said. "This could be very important for future economic development of the county and I am optimistic the report will indicate the system is usable and, in turn, it will encourage industry to come to Clay County."