Early construction work has begun at the site of a planned Norfolk Southern Corp. staging yard, even as Swanton area residents look for a way to stop the project.
“We are doing early construction work here,” said Dave Pidgeon, a Norfolk Southern manager of public relations. “Work that you would commonly do at the beginning of any construction.”
Area opponents of the project say that despite the work, the staging yard is not a done deal. The property has not been sold to Norfolk Southern, according to the Lucas County Auditor’s Real Estate Information System, and approval for closing Scott Road has not been given.
When asked if the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) not approving the closure of Scott Road or village refusal to sell land to the railroad would end the project, Pidgeon did not give a yes or no answer.
“We are determined to follow through on this project,” said Pidgeon. “We want to work with communities and work with PUCO. We believe that it is a safe decision as the project moves forward to close this particular crossing. The safest crossing is no crossing.”
Swanton Township officials continue to fight the project, and have been active on the Citizens Against Norfolk Southern Facebook page. Most of the project, including the rail line’s intersection with Scott Road, is in the township.
Norfolk Southern has expressed interest in a sliver of land owned by the Village of Swanton.
“The village and officials from Norfolk Southern have discussed their interest in the piece of property that the village owns by the overpass,” said Swanton Village Council member Michael Rochelle. “By statute, we have to advertise the property if we decide to sell this property or any property the village owns. The council will still have the opportunity to reject any bid if we do not want to sell. We are keeping communication lines open which is helping get our questions answered by the railroad.”
The property, which is just over a quarter of an acre, is being advertised in the Swanton Enterprise. It was previously advertised in July, and no official bids were submitted by deadline.
“NS submitted a proposed option but it was past the deadline and therefore no action was taken,” said Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle. As of Friday, no bids had been submitted, she added.
She believes there is a misconception that the village has sold land.
“The village has done nothing of the sort,” Hoelzle said. “I can assure you that Village Council still has many questions and concerns about this proposed project.”
At its Sept. 12 meeting, Swanton Village Council approved, by motion, to send a letter with its questions and concerns. That letter was sent to Norfolk Southern, as well as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and no response has been received to date, according to Hoelzle.
When asked if Swanton was not the first choice for the location of the staging yard, as Citizens Against Norfolk Southern members have suggested, Pidgeon said Norfolk Southern does not typically comment on those kind of specific details.
He said there were multiple reasons the Swanton site was selected.
“It’s because there is a customer need and we need the capacity. It is one if the busiest corridors. There are also property owners willing to work us,” said Pidgeon.
He also did not identify the customer needing the coal.
Norfolk Southern representatives have said seven new tracks would be added as part of the staging yard. Full trains, carrying coal, would pull into the staging yard and park until they are ready to depart to the unidentified customer.
It was estimated by company representatives that an additional two trains per day would travel through Swanton after the staging yard is completed. Trains passing through would do so at the same speed they do now, but trains entering the staging yard would slow to 15 mph, according to Pidgeon.
This has led to concerns about an increase in trains blocking the two intersections in the village – Main Street and Munson Road. Other concerns included pollution, noise, and a decrease in property values.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010 or on Twitter @Swan_Enterprise