Despite Erie Township residents' fears that construction of a modern rail-highway transfer yard is about to change their bucolic way of life, the sponsor's track record suggests that the project is far from a certainty.
Gabriel Hall, who operates a rail business in metro Toledo and for years advised employers on union relations, has formed numerous short-lived firms over the past two decades and owes thousands of dollars to the U.S. Treasury, according to records in Monroe and Lansing.
An employee at U.S. Rail Corp., where Mr. Hall is president, said he was unavailable yesterday. The firm has offices in Sylvania Township but is incorporated in Michigan.
A top economic development official in Monroe County, who has been the main government contact for the project, said he was unaware of Internal Revenue Service tax liens filed against Mr. Hall.
But records in Monroe County, where Mr. Hall has long had a home in Temperance, list $193,000 in liens filed over the past five years for unpaid taxes.
"I didn't know about that," said Bill Morris, president of the nonprofit Monroe County Industrial Development Corp.
County officials had painted the project as a "done deal" two weeks ago at a township meeting that drew more than 200 angry residents.
Mr. Morris said he didn't know if Mr. Hall's tax problems would hurt his ability to obtain financing for the project that is estimated at $85 million.
Sponsors promised the rail yard, where cargo from overseas would be transferred between rail cars and semi-trailer trucks, would create 700 permanent jobs paying between $15 and $28 an hour.
The county economic development executive said he was unaware of how sponsors planned to finance the project and that he had not sought credit reports
said he was unaware of how sponsors planned to finance the project and that he had not sought credit reports on U.S. Rail.
According to the firm's Web site, it repairs and stores rail cars and operates three so-called "short lines," which haul goods for industrial customers over short distances.
The lines are near Cincinnati, Chillocothe, and Akron.
Brick and lumber are listed among products transported by the Akron area line, described as the Cuyahoga Falls division.
Although U.S. Rail has marketed the Akron line, it hasn't attracted enough interest to obtain the required federal authorization to haul freight on the tracks, said Robert Pfaff, executive director of the Metro Regional Transit Authority in Akron, which leases the line to U.S. Rail.
A spokesman for the federal Surface Transportation Board, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said records there do not show that U.S. Rail is authorized to haul freight anywhere. But she noted that the lines near Chillocothe and Cincinnati might be listed under other names.
For a time, Mr. Hall was an officer and minority shareholder of Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road Co. in Blissfield, Mich.
The firm operates excursion trains and hauls freight.
But he left after a lawsuit with other shareholders, said Mark Dobronski, railway president.
The U.S. Rail president also has operated Gabriel D. Hall & Associates, which offered labor relations consulting services. Clients included Grosse Ile, near Detroit, according to the township's Web site.
Mr. Hall was involved in the formation of at least 16 Michigan corporations since 1985. Most were dissolved after a few years.
Documents do not state the nature of the businesses, but names suggest they were involved in railways, publishing, and personnel services.
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