For those who live in southern Lake Township, it's the railroad construction proposal that keeps coming back.
After two previous false starts, CSX Transportation Corp. says it's serious this time about building a 1.6-mile connecting track to create a direct route to and from the south end of its Stanley Yard freight-car sorting complex west of Walbridge.
A five-person CSX delegation met briefly behind closed doors with township trustees Tuesday afternoon to advise them of the company's plans.
CSX issued a news release yesterday announcing the proposal and stating that it is "preparing to meet and negotiate with property owners to acquire the necessary land."
As proposed, the track would run roughly parallel to the Ohio Turnpike but between Genoa and Libbey roads, linking a track near East Broadway on the west with a CSX main line that runs between Luckey and Lemoyne roads in the area. The track would cross Luckey at grade, and be designed for 30-mph travel, the railroad said.
All trains entering or exiting Stanley Yard, where 1,100 freight cars are sorted on an average day, now do so from the yard's north end. Those traveling to or from a major junction in Fostoria loop around through Walbridge as part of the trip - a loop CSX says the new track would eliminate.
The proposed Turnpike Connection Track "would improve the efficiency of railroad operations and reduce blocked crossings in Walbridge," CSX said in its statement.
But when CSX previously broached the idea in 2000 and again in late 2001, it aroused a storm of local opposition. Property owners said it would carve up farmland and disrupt their neighborhood with noise and pollution, while local officials cited concerns about the area being boxed in by railroad tracks, impeding emergency response by police, fire, and rescue workers.
Since then, signs opposing the project that read "CSX, Please Don't Derail Our Township" have dotted the area.
"All those safety concerns and everything are still there," Ron Sims, a township trustee, said yesterday.
"It's just going to be very bad and a big mess," said Lou Snyder, who four years ago said he stood to lose three acres from a 28-acre plot to the project if it were built.
While CSX decided it didn't have enough capital funding to build the project four years ago, "we have a high confidence that the project will go through this time," Gary Sease, a railroad spokesman, said yesterday. "We have the capital budget to do it, and the sustained freight demand that would justify it."
Mr. Snyder said he would have liked to have known the matter would come up at the township trustees' meeting Tuesday. CSX invited the Wood County commissioners to attend, but asked that its presentation be held during an executive session, closed to the public.
"We felt an obligation to brief them first before any public notice was posted," Mr. Sease said.
Alvie Perkins, the lone county commissioner to attend the closed-door session, said he came away questioning why he had been there, other than to be notified of the railroad's plan.
"There's nothing for us to do. It's out of county control," Mr. Perkins said.
The agenda for the trustees' meeting listed an executive session for the purpose of discussing "pending litigation." Mr. Sims said the township's legal counsel recommended that the CSX matter be handled then because the township could try suing the railroad to block the project.
Mr. Snyder and five other private property owners also could find themselves in court if they don't like the offers CSX makes to them for their land.
Under Ohio law last revised in 1953, but dating back to the 19th century, railroads have eminent-domain power to seize land for tracks, stations, and other facilities if they are unable to acquire property by negotiation.
Asked how CSX would proceed if it found landowners unwilling to accept its offers, Mr. Sease said: "Our intent is to negotiate. We're going to let Part One go through and negotiate a fair and equitable settlement with the property owners."
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