More time, if not solid matter, stands to be wasted in an ongoing dispute between Union Pacific and the village of Sutherland over a leaking sewer line below the railroad tracks.

The village is using eminent domain to put a new line under the tracks on the east edge of town. The leaky line is 50-years-old.

Village Chairman Tory Copeland said the project really bogged down in April, when the first replacement plan ran afoul of some fiber optic cables that were buried in the 1990s and were in the way of the replacement line.

In May, the Lincoln County Court said the village has the right to use eminent domain at a new location, about 37 feet from the original easement, if they pay UPRR $1,000 in compensation.

That decision appeared to settle the matter, but on Wednesday, UPRR filed a “notice of intent to appeal” the decision. UP claims the county court decision and the financial amount “are contrary to law, facts, and evidence adduced.”

Copeland said the village and UP previously agreed, during the winter, on a procedure to replace the leaky pipe, and the village lined up a contractor to do the work in April.

However, the contractor found the fiber optic cables within 4-inches of the village sewer line, which called for a new location, and a new agreement with UP.

In the new agreement, UP told the village to work with Rail Pros, a national company that provides engineering, construction and project management for rail infrastructure projects.

The nearest Rail Pros office is in Houston, Texas.

The agreement required the village to pay Rail Pros for the service. Leery of mounting costs, the village just wants to bring back the original contractor.

Copeland said the old sewer line has dissolved, and the casing of the old line is now apparently leaking too. He said rocks and gravel are showing up in the sewer pipe outflow.

“We think that is coming from a hole in the line under the tracks,” he said.

The leak is apparently about 10 feet below the tracks, and it will eventually undermine the tracks, Copeland said.  If the casing collapses entirely, sewage will be forced out a manhole on U.S. Highway 30, and will probably back up in basements. He said it could possibly derail a train.

“You’d think the railroad would want to be good neighbors,” Copeland said. “It is in their interest to repair the leak. Many UP employees live here in town (and use the sewer.)

“We’re not doing anything new,” he added. “It’s not like we’re building a new development or anything.”

Copeland said if the village can proceed, they will install a larger, longer lasting casing and pipe, which will serve needs far into the future.

Now that UP plans to appeal the eminent domain decision, he said the village will have to hire a consulting attorney.


Step-by-step process

(from Sutherland Village Board Chairman Tory Copeland)

• August 2017: Problems with sewer drainage through the village’s pipe under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks were discussed.

• September 11 & 17, 2017: Contact was made with the UPRR regarding “Utility Installation Application.”

• October 2017: Village superintendent and village engineer met onsite with UPRR personnel to discuss the need to repair or replace the line below the UPRR tracks. Several contacts were made with UPRR at various levels to attempt to expedite the repair/replacement of the defective sewer line, which serves nearly 90% of the homes in Sutherland.

• October 2017: Village attorney advised the need to have an appraisal to determine the “value of taking” for the crossing.

• November 2017: Certified appraiser returned a judgment of $800 for the value of the taking to cross under the tracks.

• Discussions with UPRR led to village attorney recommending applying for a permit from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and negotiating with the UPRR.

• December 2017: Application was made to UPRR to replace the existing line under the UPRR tracks.

• January 2018: UPRR offered an agreement to the village to replace the line.

• March 2018: Village returned the agreement to UPRR with the required insurance, fees and stipulated paperwork. Village accepted a contractor’s bid, with project to be completed by April.

• April 2018: The contractor found conflict with existing fiber optic lines buried within 4 inches of the old village sewer line, precluding the village from using that crossing location.

• April 2018: UPRR was advised of the conflict between the fiber optic lines (which intruded on the village easements) and village sewer. UPRR said a new agreement would be required and additional requirements would be placed on the village by putting the project under control of the UPRR subsidiary Rail Pros, requiring the village to pay Rail Pros fees and daily expenses, without limit to the cost thereof.

• May 2018: New agreement with the UPRR was presented to the village, with new requirements to address the Rail Pros issue.

• May 2018: Village initiated condemnation proceedings in Lincoln County court to clear the issues and expenses to replace the existing pipeline.

• June 2018: Condemnation proceedings underway.

• July 2018: Condemnation appraisers returned a value of $ 1,000 for taking an easement to replace the existing sewer line under the UPRR tracks at a new location, about 40 feet from the existing location.

• August 2018: UPRR files notice of intent to appeal condemnation ruling.