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Camp Ripley seeks to train for oil, pipeline disasters

LITTLE FALLS — Every year, more than 17,000 law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency responders come to Camp Ripley from all over the state to train for a worst-case scenario.

With its central location, ample space and state-of-the-art training facilities, Ripley officials say the 53,000-acre camp is a logical location to prepare for a unique type of disaster: an oil train derailment or pipeline spill.

Camp Ripley played host Thursday to members of the House capital investment committee, which is visiting proposed public works projects for possible inclusion in next year’s bonding bill.

The Department of Public Safety is asking for $3.1 million in bonding money to help build a regional training facility at Camp Ripley to prepare emergency workers for oil train and pipeline disasters.

Every day, seven trains carrying 23 million gallons of Bakken crude oil cross Minnesota, Maj. Joseph Sanganoo told the committee members. An estimated 3.5 million Minnesotans live along those rail routes.

The state also has about 65,000 miles of pipeline that carry natural gas, ethanol and other hazardous materials, and they’re owned by 86 different companies, Sanganoo said.

“Should a catastrophic … incident take place, as in an oil train derailment, that could cause significant impact to the environment and could certainly impact a lot of lives,” he said.

Camp Ripley officials say the base makes sense as a location for the training facility because it already houses numerous agencies for training, including the State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, other law enforcement agencies and the FBI.

The camp already has one rail car on about 50 feet of rail for training purposes. It’s near the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, a collection of 24 concrete-block buildings designed as a mock village.

Related: Oil spill drill set for pipelines in Straits of Mackinac

To make the training site more realistic, camp officials want to extend the rail line to about 2 miles. The idea is to bring some rail cars, tip them over and have the firefighters and emergency responders use the chemicals and equipment they would use in a real-life oil derailment and fire, Sanganoo said.

“With 2 miles of rail we have the capability of really bringing the realism to it,” he said.

The camp would work with BNSF to get the right type of rail car, and could even add fire to have firefighters respond in a controlled situation, said Col. Scott St. Sauver, garrison commander at Camp Ripley.

“We want to put them in the most stressful situation that we can,” St. Sauver said. “If you don’t train them in the worst of the worst, how do they know what they’re going into? We owe them that.”

The bonding money would pay for the longer rail line and for a large concrete pad where responders could train with real chemicals without fear of causing environmental damage, said Don Kerr, executive director of the state Department of Military Affairs.

“That’s the controlled environment that we’re talking about — basically, doing this inside a big bathtub, so that those chemicals don’t escape into the wild, get into the ground water, get into the river,” Kerr said.

The House bonding committee has visited the sites of several proposed projects this week, including the prison and dam in St. Cloud and Eastman Hall at St. Cloud State University.

Even-numbered years are typically when the Legislature and governor agree on a large spending package for public works projects. The final bill is likely to be considerably smaller than the total number of requests, however.

More than $3 billion in requests have already been submitted for the bonding bill the Legislature is expected to pass next year. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he plans to propose a bill of roughly $1 billion.

This article was written by Kirsti Marohn from St. Cloud Times, Minn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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