North Dakota

Speaking out: The problem of ownership

The BNSF railroad plans to dismantle the existing railroad bridge over the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan. BNSF plans to build a new bridge to accommodate increased freight traffic. Amtrak carries passenger service on the rail line through Minot, about 110 miles north. Rail passenger advocates also continue to push for a passenger train through Bismarck. The new bridge could have two lines that could accommodate passengers and cargo if that day ever comes.

BNSF rejects the idea that anyone but themselves has a legal interest in the existing bridge. The definition of legal property, which gives the owner absolute control over everything, has historically been problematic. Currently, cattle can be owned by a rancher as chattel property. This owner can buy and sell these animals as he pleases, but it is against the law to neglect these animals by not feeding them. Ownership in this case is both a right and an obligation.

People also read…

In the case of the railway bridge, millions of public dollars have gone into the construction of this architectural masterpiece. The railroad received every other section of land, four sections deep on either side of the railroad line, an 8-mile wide corridor of land for the public purpose of carrying people and freight, and crossing the Missouri River.

The design and construction of this bridge are so intertwined with North Dakota’s history that they are inseparable. It’s not an old story. The bridge, designed in 1880 and completed in 1883, withstood the 2011 flood that carried a 17 mph current against these bridge piers. These piers are clad with steel on the north side to protect the bridge from ice flows. Can anyone imagine the force to which these ice flows have been subjected that the bridge has withstood all these years? I cheer the bridge designer and the skillful and dedicated workers who built it every time thunderous streams of ice are hurled against it and the bridge still stands!

It’s too easy to say that the railway bridge belongs to the BNSF and they can do whatever they want with it. It would be tantamount to allowing the owner of the original Mona Lisa painting to burn it in public.

I walked the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Construction began in 1869 and was completed in 1883. The Brooklyn Bridge is a major tourist attraction. This bridge supports heavy trucks, cyclists and pedestrians. The Bismarck Railroad Bridge is historically equivalent to the Brooklyn Bridge. There is something to see. Visitors will marvel at the bravery and intelligence of those who designed and built it and those who have maintained it for 140 years.

Can you imagine the tourism promotional value of keeping this bridge as a pedestrian walkway across the Missouri? Can you imagine the value it will have in the riverfront development of the cities of Mandan and Bismarck?

Harold Hamm donated $50 million to the Theodore Roosevelt Library in Medora. So does the state of North Dakota. Wealthy industrialists are not new to North Dakota. Do you remember Andrew Carnegie and James J. Hill? Converting a historic railroad bridge into a pedestrian walkway isn’t big bucks for wealthy industrialists or for the state of North Dakota. It is right that Hamm and the state are contributing to the Roosevelt Library and it is right to ask the state and wealthy people to save this bridge. Let’s devote ourselves to this offer and not worry about who owns it.

Bill Patrie has received recognition for his work as a cooperative developer from the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

| |
Back to top button