Responding to the pleas of local residents to do more and, at the very least, explain more regarding their position on the Norfolk Southern rail yard project, the Swanton Village Council held two special council meetings, both presided over by Council President Paul Dzyak, on Tuesday, November 1 and Thursday, November 3, to address those very concerns.
At the first meeting the Council brought in the recently hired outside legal counsel Jeff Stopar of Semro, Henry and Barga of Toledo who has experience in handling cases involving real estate and Eminent Domain to field any questions.
Mr. Stopar prefaced the question and answer session with remarks explaining the Council’s hesitation to divulge any information regarding their legal strategy with respect to the rail yard project.
“I want to give you some guidance as to the law that applies here that has guided some of the decisions the Council has made to this point,” he said. “But I don’t want provide Norfolk Southern with a complete description of all the strengths and weaknesses of our legal position.
It’s not in the Village’s best interest to go way down into the details on some of those things.”
Mr. Stopar also made clear the position of Swanton Mayor Ann Roth in the matter explaining that because of some of the property the railroad is attempting to purchase belongs to Ms. Roth’s family she has not been involved in any of the discussions with Village officials or in any of the decisions they have made.
One of the questions many people had was why the Village has not attempted to have an injunction issued by the courts to stop the work Norfolk Southern is currently doing on the east side of town. Mr. Stopar told the crowd of the need to present “clear and convincing evidence” to the courts before it would be issued and that federal law precludes local governments from taking actions to interfere with railroad construction or operations under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995.
As a case in point, he told of a federal court in Toledo that had recently ruled against the city and in favor of a railroad in a case of involving the construction of a building next to a set of railroad tracks. “And this was just a building,” he emphasized.
Many questions followed, basically asking what else can be done and Mr. Stopar, stating unequivocally, that the staging yard was not a “done deal” and they were still building a case.
Towards the end of the meeting the subject of a Village resolution objecting to the project was raised. Council agreed and scheduled another meeting for the following Thursday.
At that meeting Mr. Dzyak read resolution 2016-10 that stated, in part, “the proposed staging yard poses a serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of Village and County residents because of the risks to the environment, depression of property values and the potential for environmental hazards.” The resolution was passed unanimously and the meeting was quickly adjourned. The next regularly schedule Council meeting is November 14, 2016 at 7:00 pm.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org