Make no mistake: The Canadian Pacific Railway's decision to raise the level of the railroad tracks running through downtown Davenport is a potential, but very real, threat to the city's most valued asset.
The Mississippi River, and access to it via a riverfront that stretches the length of the city's downtown, has been at the center of public and private development and planning for decades.
Put simply, the question of how to enhance and leverage this precious natural asset has consumed an enormous amount of thought, ingenuity and investment. We cannot allow it to be severed, like a useless limb, from the rest of the city.
Yet, the Canadian Pacific's decision to permanently raise the tracks that run the length of our riverfront rightfully is prompting concerns at City Hall and beyond.
Mayor Frank Klipsch and a gathering of the city's aldermen raised those worries Tuesday.
As Klipsch said later, the primary concern is public safety. The railroad carries a vast array of goods through our community, and ensuring the tracks are raised so that the trains can pass safely through downtown is a primary concern, he said.
Yet, city officials also say they have no real oversight of the work.
We understand the railroad is largely regulated by the federal government. But the lack of oversight by the city, which is charged with public safety responsibilities, is unsettling.
The railroad said, when it is finished, it will have raised the tracks 20 inches at the Brady, Main and Perry crossings, while the one at Gaines Street is the subject of discussions with the city.
As to the question of access, the railroad told us it has committed to the city that approaches to the crossings will be upgraded to the city's satisfaction.
"That will include ensuring continued access across the tracks to the riverfront," a spokesman said.
We are hopeful the railroad sticks to that. Some of the city's most valuable assets sit on the other side of the tracks, including Modern Woodmen Park and LeClaire Park.
We are skeptical, though.
We know how tone-deaf railroads in this area have previously been about the city's concerns over their operations.
The rusty overpasses, which are owned by another railroad, have, for years, been a thorn in the side of City Hall, which has argued that they could be made to look better. Yet, they continue to be an eyesore.
Then there is the more recent issue of Elm Street, the stretch of road between Eastern Avenue and Jersey Ridge Road, north of Locust Street. The street has been closed for the better part of a year because of the decrepit condition of the century-old bridge that spans the railroad tracks below.
The Canadian Pacific owns the bridge, as it does another span in the Village of East Davenport, which was also shut down for safety reasons.
We asked the city earlier this week the status of Elm Street and the negotiations over the railroad overpass.
"The roadway is still closed," a city official said in an email. "We are waiting on CP to respond."
A day later we asked the railroad what its plan was for repairing the Elm Street overpass.
Its reply: "CP continues to discuss the future of the bridge at Elm Street with the City of Davenport."
Sort of a disconnect, wouldn't you say?
Have we mentioned the Elm Street bridge has been closed for nearly a year?
At a meeting of city officials last week, we heard repeatedly how the city has little power in this matter. That also is the case with the state, we are told.
Railroads control their own rights of way.
At the same time, our conversations with officials in Muscatine, which faced the same situation in 2014, lent some comfort. After Canadian Pacific raised the tracks there — again, city officials say, without warning — all the sides came to the table and a resolution was reached.
In the end, city officials told us, the railroad was a responsive partner.
We don't know what will happen in this instance.
We understand the feeling of powerlessness city officials have expressed. However, as we said at the outset, this is a potential threat to our downtown and its viability. We expect our elected officials to vigorously assert the public's rights.
We hope our federal lawmakers pay attention to this issue, too.
If it's the federal government that has the most regulatory power over the railroads, then we would hope our representatives in Congress would have our back.
Perhaps, we and city officials are worried over nothing. We would like nothing better for that to be the case.
However, the history of our relationship with the railroads does not inspire optimism.