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Published: 5/10/2006

200 in Erie Township angry to learn of rail yard 'deal'

Cliff Moore, an Erie resident and fi refi ghter, passes out printouts of other developed intermodal rail yards during the meeting at the Erie Township Fire Department in Erie, Mich.
Cliff Moore, an Erie resident and fi refi ghter, passes out printouts of other developed intermodal rail yards during the meeting at the Erie Township Fire Department in Erie, Mich.
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ERIE, Mich. - Monroe County officials said at last night's Erie Township Board meeting that a proposed intermodal rail yard that became public only weeks ago is actually a "done deal," and may begin operations as soon as next year.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, many for the sole purpose of hearing details about the facility. But the contention started even before the rail yard issue arose.

Before Bill Morris, head of Monroe County's Industrial Development Corp., spoke, the board appointed former Supervisor Dan Bonkoski interim supervisor. Mr. Bonkoski replaced former Supervisor Paul Mikels, who was recalled along with Clerk Amy Whipple in last week's election.

The new supervisor suggested appointing an interim clerk. Trustee Tad Cousino made a motion; Trustees Denise Gordy and Dineen Kamprath spoke against it. That set off lively discussion among the board members and attendees.

The motion died on the table, to the dismay of many in the crowd.

Mr. Morris then spoke to the largely antagonistic crowd.

"I'm going to tell you straight out what I know," he began, then said the IDC had been approached by a development company, which had chosen Erie Township for its open land and proximity to I-75, with its dual interchanges of Luna Pier and Erie roads.

"That intrigued me right away because we're talking about jobs and we're talking about investments," Mr. Morris said. "Jobs and investments are what we're after."

He then said the businesses involved, U.S. Rail, a Michigan-based short line railroad, and Global Partners, had "assured" him that the facility would create 700 jobs, paying between $15 and $28 an hour, plus benefits.

The facility would be a way to attract new tax dollars, he added. It would be used mostly for container shipping, with the bulk of its cargo coming from Asia and the Pacific Rim countries. He acknowledged truck traffic would increase but be limited to the area between I-75 and the rail yard or an industrial park to be sited near there.

That set the stage for a series of emotional exchanges between township residents, Mr. Morris, and Marion Hall, a real estate broker with Transworld Realty, hired by the railroad to speak with the crowd.

"You're telling us this is already a done deal?" Judy Kleparek asked. "Have you thought about our children? You think this is good? We chose to live in Erie, a rural community. We're going to have nothing but scum from these rail yards."

She paused, fixing Mr. Morris and Mr. Hall with her gaze. "Find another job!" she told them. Applause and cheering followed her remarks.

Other residents brought up other concerns, including homeland security, insects, plunging property values, why township officials didn't tell them about the talks sooner, and, mostly, why the facility can't be somewhere else.

Discussion often evolved into shouts and threats, with one man shouting "Recall!" at the board.



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