MARINETTE - The proposed train horn "quiet zone" was almost unanimously voted down at the Marinette City Council meeting Tuesday night. Alderwoman Martha Karban was the only alderperson to vote in favor of pledging support for the project.
"I think that it is our duty, as elected officials, to try to help the citizens in any way we can," Karban said. "We did have 500 people sign a petition because they wanted us to get going on this issue."
The proposal called for the city to begin street improvements for the crossings at Cleveland Avenue, Mary Street, Carney Avenue and Riverside Avenue, as well as the closing of the Ella Court Street crossing. The improvements would make Marinette eligible for a quiet zone designation. The crossing at Roosevelt Road would be excluded from the quiet zone. The entire project would cost about $165,000 and be subject to the final approval of the Federal Railroad Association (FRA).
Karban said that the construction required at some railroad crossings, especially the crossing on Ella Court Street, would benefit the city, even if the application was denied by the FRA.
"I think we have a responsibility, with how unsafe the crossing at Ella Court (Street) is, to make it as safe as possible," she said. "Yes, the railroad association could deny the quiet zone after we've done all this work, but at that point, we would know we've done all we could."
The other aldermen voted against the quiet zone for a number of reasons, which many stated during the discussion.
Some, like Alderman John Marx, believes that safety would be an issue if the quiet zone moved forward. He stated at the meeting that his great grandmother died in a train accident because she could not hear its horn and that he didn't want that to happen to anyone else.
Others, like Alderwoman Shirley Kaufman, did not like to see the Ella Court Street crossing closed, effectively creating a dead end on the street.
"I'm not opposed to the quiet zone, I just want Ella Court (Street) to remain open," she said.
To keep the crossing open, improvements to the Ella Court Street crossing would cost approximately $300,000 to be acceptable in a quiet zone. The city would receive money from the FRA to simply close the crossing completely.
Still others, such as Aldermen Dennis Colburn and Alderwoman Dorothy Kowalski, believe the quiet zone should be placed on lists of capital projects for the city to consider, but after projects like the Civic Center's building are addressed.
"I look at other projects that we already have in the works or have been waiting for 10 years, like the domes (at the Civic Center)," Kowalski said. "I can't say that one thing is more important than the other like the quiet zone as opposed to the Civic Center, but I look at the programs in that building that would be lost and the kids that rely on those programs."
Colburn expressed similar sentiments at an earlier Civic Affairs, Traffic, Lights and Cemetery Committee meeting.
A crowd of Marinette residents attended the council meeting to give statements during the public comment portion and to see what the council members would decide.
Of the 12 people who gave statements - one through a letter sent to Mayor Denise Ruleau - four were against the quiet zone.
Frank O'Rourke pointed out that from a survey that was distributed to 4,696 people, of those that were returned, 60 percent voted against moving forward with the quiet zone.
"As the city council, you act on behalf of the entire city, not just a small interest group," he said.
Francis Boyle, the county's circuit court commissioner, said those who didn't like the noise could live somewhere else.
"Why should the citizens of Marinette be subsidizing the few people who bought their lot (near railroad tracks) and knew the trains went through, and now want us to pay a minimum of $165,000 to create a quiet zone," he said.
Another resident, Jim Johnston, said the situation is not unlike when he pays taxes for the schools even though he does not have children, and he is okay with that because the money will create a better school system.
"We're a community and we have to operate as a community, not as individuals ... We need to understand that this is a quality of life situation," he said. "Cities in the U.S. that are successful focus a lot on the quality of life."
Peter Hass, who survived a collision with a train on Ella Court Street, said the city can't keep doing things the way they used to.
"There are more trains now and the decibels of the horns are higher than they were years ago. Things change," he said. "We have to continue to improve ourselves and improve safety for others in order to be a better community."