Opponents of a Norfolk Southern staging yard came away from last Tuesday’s special Swanton Village Council Committee of the Whole meeting with more information and a plan to fight.
The meeting was held to allow residents to hear from Jeffrey Stopar, who has been hired as outside legal counsel to assist the village in matters related to the railyard. Stopar clerked for The McQuades Co. and currently is with Semro Henry Spinazze & Barga LTD.
After Stopar introduced himself, Swanton Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle spoke of communication with residents, saying, “We know we need to do a better job.” She said one way of doing that is an improved village website currently in the works.
The administrator also said she was happy to talk to residents. “Please, call me,” she said. “I will try to have a conversation with you and try to be as transparent as possible about what’s going on.”
Stopar did speak about why it was decided not to seek an injunction to stop work on the rail yard site. “You hear a lot of talk about (injunctions), but in reality they’re pretty hard to get,” he said. They require clear and convincing evidence, he added.
The main issue is that federal law precludes local governments from taking action that interferes with railroad construction or operation, according to Stopar. The passage of the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act in 1995 and subsequent case law have shown this.
“If we try to file an action against the railroad they are going to say, ‘You can’t do that, because federal law prohibits you from doing that.’ And quite honestly, it’s a pretty strong argument,” Stopar said.
He said even though Norfolk Southern does not yet own all of the property, an injunction would still be difficult to get.
Norfolk Southern did close recently on two properties just to the east of Hallett Avenue. It purchased approximately 54 acres on the north and south side of the tracks, just east of Hallett and Zeiter Way for $1,235,745 from Mapleview Farms, Inc.
The property south of the tracks is on Brindley Road, and directly across the street from the Silverbuck subdivision.
“We have closed on a majority of the properties we need to purchase,” said Dave Pidgeon, Norfolk Southern public relations manager. He added that he expects the rest of the properties will be purchased in the next week.
Some area residents have also questioned the future plans of Norfolk Southern, suggesting something bigger could be in the works. Pidgeon dismissed the idea.
“We have acquired only the property we need to build this site, to build this specific facility,” he said. “Any discussion about anything else in the next 20 years is pure speculation.”
People are engaging in “pretty spectacular speculation,” he said. “There’s been suggestion that perhaps in the future this could be intermodal. Norfolk Southern already has one in Toledo. We have enough capacity in Toledo.”
He added there are also large railyards in Bellevue, Ohio, and Elkhart, Indiana.
Pidgeon did say that it would not just be a coal yard. “Coal is one commodity that could use that facility but its open to all cargo, all freight,” he said.
The possible closure of Scott Road was also discussed at last week’s special meeting. Stopar said that is one area where Norfolk Southern does not have complete control over their plans.
Norfolk Southern representatives have stated that they prefer to close Scott Road at the railroad tracks, citing safety issues created by newly constructed tracks.
There also was discussion on what could be done by area residents to fight the staging yard.
“If you’re waiting for your elected officials to take the lead in this, it is really difficult for them to do that,” said Rick Kazmierczak, a Swancreek Township trustee. He said he speaks from the experience of trying to fight the NEXUS pipeline and, to a certain extent, Kinder-Morgan.
“The elected officials have passed resolutions and will offer advice when they can, but we already know what to do,” he said. “Call your senators, call your congressmen, tell them you’re not going to vote for them if they don’t give you an answer that you want to hear.”
Kazmierzcak said it is time for area residents to move forward and stop dwelling on what happened in the past.
“That does us no good. If you want to stop this, stop fighting among ourselves, and start pulling together to get this stopped,” he said. “We can’t change what happened three months ago, we can change what happens a minute from now, and going forward.”
Swanton resident Catherine Gee-Robinson built off of that, setting up a meeting of volunteers to move forward in the fight against the staging yard. “I’m not going to sit at these meetings anymore and listen to people talk about what happened in the past,” she said.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 429-335-2010 or on Twitter @Swan_Enterprise