A standing room only crowd filled the Swanton Community Center Monday, with most speaking out against a planned railroad staging yard.
Residents from both Swanton Township and the Village of Swanton voiced their concerns and questioned two representatives from Norfolk Southern Corporation. The railroad plans to build a staging yard from the east end of the village to between Scott and Wilkins roads.
The project would have a 120-acre footprint, with 60 acres making up the actual yard. It was described as a “parking lot for trains.” Trains would stop in the yard as they wait to be delivered to a customer the representatives would not name.
Village resident Robert Bolling questioned how the railroad would keep kids safe and worried that the yard could be used for cargo more dangerous than coal.
Multiple residents voiced concerns about the impact of the yard on area property values.
“From our perspective, we think that this is a good project,” said Bryant Thomas, a government relatiosn manager for Norfolk Southern. “Not only just for Norfolk Southern but for northwest Ohio in general. Our intention is to only have as much impact on the community as is completely necessary.”
Concerns about the yard being used as a switching yard in the future were also raised. However, Thomas countered that the planned staging yard is not engineered to be used as a switching yard.
Ed Price, a township resident and contractor, mentioned environmental issues.
“Do you realize, for instance, that the township in which you’re building, we all have wells. All of our water comes from the ground. The same ground that your trains leach onto.”
Thomas responded that Norfolk Southern did everything that was required of it for permitting in order to have the project go forward.
Price also questioned the forthrightness of the railroad.
“My biggest problem with this is: Why wouldn’t you come to the community? If you didn’t need that sliver of land in Swanton there probably wouldn’t even be a public meeting,” said Price. “That’s what scares me about this.”
Norfolk Southern Corp. would like to buy the approximately quarter acre of village-owned land near the Hallett Avenue overpass and Zieter Way loop. However, Thomas said, village refusal to sell the land would not end the project.
The vast majority of the planned yard is in Swanton Township.
Some in attendance at the meeting also questioned local government officials about not informing them of the project in a timely manner. Norfolk Southern officials were also at the Aug. 22 Village Council meeting where they were questioned by members of council.
Attendees contended that the area where the yard would be located was not planted when the rest of the field was, making it obvious something was happening.
Swanton Township Trustees are against the project and have hired a law firm to represent them.
The closing of Scott Road is one area of contention in the township. Norfolk Southern Corp. would like to close the road at the crossing and create turnarounds on either side.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will decide whether Scott Road is closed.
In order for the PUCO to grant a petition to close a grade crossing, the PUCO must determine there is no demonstrable need for the grade crossing to exist, according to the commission’s website.
More information on PUCO and railroads is available at http://www.puco.ohio.gov/puco/index.cfm/information-by-industry/railroad-consumer-information/ .
Those in attendance asked for another public meeting, with Swanton Mayor Ann Roth asking that Swanton Township host the next one. Swanton Township has scheduled a town hall meeting as part of the trustees’ regular meeting on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Swanton Township Hall at the corner of Scott Road and Airport Highway.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010