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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Erie Township session to address rail-yard plan

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Details on a proposed rail yard in Erie Township remain sketchy, but a county official plans to attend tonight's township meeting to talk to residents about what's going on.

Bill Morris, head of the Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation, said he would be on hand to answer questions at the 7 p.m. meeting.

Mr. Morris said little in a recent interview on the subject, citing an agreement with the developer, whom he declined to name.

"They've asked for confidentiality," he said of the hush-hush discussions. "That's not uncommon in the industrial community."

Former township supervisor Paul Mikels, who was ousted from office after a recall vote last week, said last month that he met with representatives of Monroe County, the state of Michigan, and Canadian National railroad, but had agreed not to divulge what was said.

Since then, a railroad spokesman said Canadian National has no plans to build a terminal in Erie Township.

But local businessman Jeff Benore said the railroad, with whom he does business, had contacted him regarding a possible rail yard to be located in the area of Bay Creek Road to I-75, and Erie Road to between Luna Pier and Cousino roads.

Mr. Benore's business moves containers shipped by rail from Ferndale, Mich., to points south.

A rail yard, if built, would bring jobs and tax dollars to the county, Mr. Morris said, but he would not mention specifics.

Monroe County industrial development officials said through a press release that "similar projects built in other locales have resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs and significantly increased property values and revenues to those municipalities and school districts.

"The creation of this type of operation will also serve as a magnet to attract business to southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio and open the door to international commerce for years to come," according to the statement.

Still, many residents living west of I-75 are concerned about the possibility of a rail yard locating near them.

"There wasn't a real chance to discuss this openly in the community," Mr. Mikels said. "If we had tried to do that, if Bill Morris had tried to come in the community and say, 'We would like to do this,' it would have died before it got started."

Nevertheless, he acknowledged the need for debate.

"There needs to be a lot of open discussion in the community," Mr. Mikels said. "It's a large issue, and I don't want to be myopic. Individuals can be narrow in their focus, but we need to make sure we don't let one narrowly focused group control opinion. Some people don't want it at all, other people see the desperate need for jobs."

If a railroad owner decides it wants to operate in Erie Township, it would have the authority to buy property through the right of eminent domain. It would not have to have residents' blessings.

"With a railroad, there's no local approval process that I'm aware of," Mr. Morris said.



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