When Calgary-based Tervita Corp. announced in April that it intended to buy the controversial Youngstown and Southern rail line, we urged officials of the Canadian company to pay attention to complaints about the line lodged by Boardman Township trustees and Administrator Jason Loree.
In particular, we pointed to a letter from the trustees to Tracy Drake, executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority, which owns the line, that urged a clean up of the tracks to meet zoning codes.
Tervita has since decided not to go through with the purchase of the 36-mile line, which runs from Boardman to Darlington, Pa., for the following reason: The land near the car barn in Negley is environmentally suspect.
In an interview with The Vindicator, Drake said he believes soil contamination occurred in the 1990s, “maybe three owners ago” by an off-site oil spill. The oil encroached on the Y&S property.
“It had been our understanding that it had been remediated,” the port authority executive director said.
But Tervita, an environmental and energy-services company, obviously does not agree with Drake’s assessment. It used a provision in the memorandum of understanding signed with the port authority in April to walk away if there are environmental issues.
The collapse of the purchase plan has financial ramifications. The Canadian company gave the port authority $150,000 “good faith payment,” which will be returned if its environmental claims are found to be valid.
For its part, the authority owes the Ohio Rail Development Commission $1.1 million, but the commission was willing to forgive the late fees and penalties — totaling about $1 million — if the sale went through. However, the state was unwilling to take less than $1 million.
Tervita intended to pay $2.9 million for the Youngstown and Southern rail line, of which $1.2 million would have gone to the rail commission. In addition, the authority planned to pay off a $500,000 bank loan.
Tervita also intended to buy the landfill in Negley or a major interest in the facility.
Now, with the deal’s collapse, Drake must come to terms with the financial and environmental realities of the rail line.
When we used the word “controversial” to describe the Y&S, we wondered if we were being overly harsh in our assessment of the facility. Over the years, there have been complaints from Boardman trustees and Administrator Loree about the blighted condition of the tracks and the debris along them, but the response has been less than satisfactory.
Indeed, Drake’s reaction to the request for the tracks to be cleaned up to meet zoning codes summed up the situation succinctly: Any known zoning violations are “preempted by federal law.”
In other words, Boardman is out of luck.
But now, with Tervita’s claim of contamination, the state and federal environmental protection agencies must conduct an investigation to determine if there is a health risk and to issue an order to clean up the property.
No one is going to buy the rail line until the EPAs give it a clean bill of health.