Proposed Swanton Rail Yard Issue Becoming Increasingly Tense

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In a scene that has become all too familiar in the public meeting venues in and around the Village of Swanton, a large crowd of residents gathered, this time in the Village Council room, to find out the Council’s next move to thwart Norfolk Southern’s plans to build a rail car staging yard on the eastern edge of their community.

In the crowd were four citizens, Karen Underwood, Catherine Gee-Robinson, Nicholas Cole and Deacon Dzierzawski, that had been placed on the Presentation agenda to allow them to address the Council on the rail yard issue.

After conducting some early business, the Council went into an executive session at 7:12 p.m. to discuss several items including imminent court action with the Village’s attorney, Alan Lehenbauer. They were joined by outside counsel Jeff Stopar of Semro, Henry and Barga of Toledo who had been retained to help with matters related to real estate.

The Council emerged at 8:32 p.m. and dealt with more business before hearing the first speaker, Robert Bowling of Church Street, who expressed his concern of the lack of sidewalks on his block and the safety of children walking to school at Crestwood Elementary. After Mr. Bowling’s presentation, Mayor Ann Roth left the council chambers and was replaced by Council President Paul Dzyak to hear presentations regarding the rail yard.

Ms. Underwood spoke first, asking the Council to help stop the project and suggested a possible injunction against the work that was already under way. At that time Mr. Lehenbauer stood and said “We have looked further and tried to assess if we could take any action. At this point in time we don’t believe it would be in our best interest to pursue any kind of injunction.”

Several people in the crowd immediately asked him why. “We’re not going to put legal opinions in the paper,” responded Mr. Lehenbauer.

“If there is litigation we’re not going to publicize what our legal position is.”

The next three speakers followed and asked the Council what action had been taken on the matter since the last meeting. There was little response other than to say that acting on the advice of counsel, they would not speak on the issue for fear of jeopardizing their case.

The meeting actually began with two proclamations from the Mayor and the Council. The first was to recognize Red Ribbon Week, October 23 to 31, to promote awareness of drug and alcohol violence. Andrea Smith of the Swanton Area Coalition Committee was on hand to receive the proclamation from Mayor Roth.

The second proclamation went to Lon Fessenden and family for 40 years of service to the Village of Swanton through their business, Fessenden Hardware. Mayor Roth commended Mr. Fessenden and his son Eric, who were both there, for their four decades of outstanding service.

In personnel compensation news, reacting to changes in the Fair Labor Standard Act regarding the new minimum annual salary of $47,476 for exempt employees, raises were given to the three Village employees that fell below the new level. Effective November 20, 2016 the Fiscal Officer position will be paid $50,000, the Chief of Police and the Superintendent of Public Service Operations will each receive $52,000.

Swanton Fire Chief Mike Wolever presented his recommendation for optimal staffing at 12 full-time individuals to cover four positions.

Council will take the recommendation under consideration. The Council did approve the continued employment of Neil Tedrow in Public Service following the completion of his probation period.

It was announced that Swanton Local Schools will hold a Veteran’s Day celebration on Friday, November 11 beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Swanton High School Gym.

The next meeting will be held on November 14, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in the Village Council Chambers.

Bill O’Connell may be reached at publisher@thevillagereporter.com

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