It was standing room only in Swanton Village Council chambers on Monday, as residents crowded in to stress the need to fight Norfolk Southern Corporation’s proposed rail yard in the area.
As a promising move, the council followed a 50-minute executive session that started the meeting with a vote to not sell village real estate in which the railway expressed interest.
After the vote, five citizens were each permitted 15 minutes to plead their cases against the rail yard, and received spontaneous rounds of applause from those in attendance.
The first speaker, Linda Cannaley, a Swanton native and real estate agent, said there is not enough discussion about the damage a rail yard would do to property values.
“My feeling is based on the question, ‘Would you want to live anywhere near a rail yard?’ How many of us would volunteer to do that?” she said.
Cannaley, who doesn’t live in the village but owns property there, said Realtors are required to tell prospective buyers a rail yard could be constructed in Swanton. If they don’t, a buyer may be able to file a lawsuit over non-disclosure.
She said if property doesn’t sell after a rail yard is constructed “you reduce the price, right? And then if it still doesn’t sell, what do you do? You reduce the price again, until it sells at maybe a signifcant price reduction, sort of like a mini-what happened in 2008.
“There’s seniors here that want and have to sell, and should be able to get a market price for it, not diminished because a rail yard is here. The seller takes the loss and keeps going.”
She reminded the council members that mortgage banks hire appraisers to compare a home’s listed price with those of other local houses for sale.
“After a few people sell at a depressed price, a pattern can develop of lower sales prices…To me, it could be the most far-reaching consequence of Norfolk-Southern’s and Swanton’s – not their backyard, their front yard,” she said.
Cannaley said property devaluation also would reduce village and school tax income.
She said she’s nervous over preliminary construction work being done at the proposed rail yard site, and encouraged village council members to fight back.
“With the force of all the residents here at your back, it’s doable,” she told them.
Swanton Township Trustee Jeff Michael and his wife, Peggy, the township’s fiscal officer, asked the council members how they planned to battle the project.
Acknowledging his position, Michael told them, “If the roles were reversed, I would definitely want to have a say in what happens and how we keep this out. What we (office holders) decide is not going to just impact Swanton Township. It’s going to impact the village; it’s going to impact Swancreek Township. And it’s going to cause an impact with the schools.”
Peggy Michael said the rail yard issue is huge. “It’s going to affect the community. It isn’t a township or village issue,” she said. “(But) our people are not for sale.”
Councilor Jeff Pilliod said the council is in “uncharted waters,” waiting for direction from Village Solicitor Alan Lehenbauer about the railway’s offer.
“I’m not too enthused about it. I haven’t really seen anything that’s a plus for the residents here,” he said.
Pilliod added that he’s concerned about what happens after the railroad’s coal contract expires in a few years. He said if another rail company purchases it the dynamics of the rail yard could change.
He told Michael that, despite a strained relationship between Swanton Township and the village over annexation issues, he’s willing to work with the trustees to keep out the rail yard.
Councilor Dianne Westhoven named several of her relatives who also live in the area.
“I’ve got a lot of skin in the game…I never would want to do anything to jeopardize anything for the people that live in Swanton or the township,” she said. “I just think we have to get to a point where we can trust one another and know that we’re working toward the same goal – everything else aside. I don’t really care what happened in the past. It’s just important moving forward.”
Pilliod agreed, saying, “Our issues are very minor compared to what could happen with this rail yard.”
Area residents Linda Kubiak and Catherine Gee-Robinson spoke more briefly, saying their opinions had been voiced by the previous speakers.
Kubiak added that rail yards devastate communities with their noise pollution, dust, and odors.
“Why would you even want it here? Who wants to live like that? It’s heart-breaking,” she said.
The council must join forces with the townships to stop the rail yard construction, Gee-Robinson said.
“A lot of folks are seeing all the work that’s being done, and it makes people nervous,” she told the council. “I think you’ve heard the voices, and I think it’s pretty clear what we want you to do.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.