By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
The Village of Swanton held a special Council meeting on August 29 to allow residents of the Village and Swanton Township to ask questions to a delegation of representatives from Norfolk Southern concerning the proposed rail yard which will stage cars carrying mostly coal. The meeting, which was held in the recently opened Swanton Community Center, quickly became an intense emotionally charged question and answer event as tempers flared, forcing Council President, Paul Dzyak, to bang the gavel on several occasions to restore order.
Many residents had concerns about the environmental and health impact the stored coal would have on the area including coal dust contaminating the air and local vegetation as well as leaching into the water supply. “We all have wells,” exclaimed Ed Price who lives just north of the yard’s proposed location.
Speaking for Norfolk Southern, Marketing Manager Courtney Siffre said a chemical surfactant is sprayed over the coal to contain the dust and that the rail cars were designed to keep everything inside including water runoff. While the railroad admitted they had not done an environmental-impact study they did say they would have to follow Federal Railroad Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in developing the facility.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” said Bryant Thomas, Regional Manager of Government Relations. “But our intention is only to do our project and have as little impact as possible on the community.”
Other concerns involved the amount of noise generated by disconnecting and reconnecting rail cars, more train and horn noise due to increased rail traffic and air compressor noise used for the trains’ braking systems as they idle as well as the amount of light emitted from the facility which will operate essentially twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The railroad also confirmed the crossing on Scott Road would be closed.
Several residents that live or own property within close proximity of the yard also expressed worries about the impact it will have on real estate values. The railroad representatives said they had no current plans to compensate property owners for any negative financial impact that would occur as a result of the project.
Brinley Road resident Ron Taylor, who owns thirteen acres of land that butts up against facility’s property, accused the railroad of dumping railroad ties onto his property for years and destroying some of the vegetation on his land. “Basically, you’re turning this town into North Toledo,” he claimed to the applause of the standing-room-only crowd. “What are you going to do for me?” he continued. “You can’t answer that. You came here unprepared.”
When asked who was in favor of the staging yard coming into the area, the vast majority, by a show of hands, were diametrically opposed to it. Only three hands were raised for its support.
“Why are we just now finding out about this?” was another popular question asked. Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle explained that the Village was officially contacted by the railroad on June 20 and could not arrange for them to address the Village Council until their August 22 meeting. Also, of the 120 acres the new facility will occupy, only one-quarter acre is actually Village property. The rest is located in Swanton Township and they had no plans for a public forum for their residents.
“We felt it necessary to open it up to public questions because we did not see that happening anywhere else so that is why we provided this forum,” added Mayor Ann Roth. She also said she would encourage the Township to hold their own meeting for the public.
Towards the end of the ninety-minute meeting someone asked Mr. Thomas if the Village were to reject the sale of the quarter acre to the railroad would be enough to stop the project. “No, responded Mr. Bryant. “It would not be a deal breaker”. In fact, information provided by Ms. Hoelzle stated, “Ohio law does provide for appropriation of private or public property.”
Jeff Michael, Chairman of the Swanton Township trustees, was in attendance but did not pose any questions to the Norfolk Southern representatives. He did say the Township had hired an attorney for consultation on opposing the closing of Scott Road. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio will ultimately rule on that issue. At his time there are no other meetings scheduled for public input.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at