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Aqua America’s decision not to buy rail line telling



Published: Wed, September 11, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

How practical is it to oper- ate the controversy-ridden Youngstown & Southern Railroad? Three major companies — Aqua America, Tervita Corp. and Eastern States — have concluded that it isn’t practical at all.

Hence we believe it’s time for an independent evaluation of the 36-mile rail line that runs along Southern Boulevard in Boardman through Columbiana County to Darlington. Pa.

We would urge the Ohio Rail Development Commission, which is familiar with the railroad that’s owned by the Columbiana County Port Authority, to conduct a top-to-bottom review.

The commission provided a $2.2 million loan for the Y&S, which the port authority had hoped to pay off with money from Calgary-based Tervita Corp. That company had agreed last year to pay $2.9 million for the Y&S.

Tracy Drake, chief executive officer of the Columbiana County Port Authority, said at the time that $1.2 million would be used to repay the state rail development commission, while $500,000 would take care of a bank loan.

The state agency had agreed to forgive $1 million in penalties owed by the port authority for falling behind on payments to the agency after another potential buyer, Eastern States, failed to follow through with its purchase.

Given that Drake’s organization has shown itself to be incapable of maintaining the line in the condition that Boardman Township trustees expect, the future of the Y&S is iffy, at best.

The latest setback is the most disappointing because had the deal with a subsidiary of Aqua America gone though, it would have meant local ownership — in a manner of speaking. The subsidiary that signed a letter of intent with the port authority was Aqua Capital Services.

But another subsidiary of Aqua America has local roots: Aqua Ohio.

It provides drinking water to a large portion of Boardman Township, and company officials have a close working relationship with township government.

Boardman trustees have long complained about the port authority — and the owners of the Y&S Railroad before the authority — not cleaning up the tracks to meet zoning codes.

The prospect of an Aqua company owning the railroad gave Boardman officials and others in the Valley who have shared their concerns some encouragement.

Last month, however, Aqua, which had signed a letter of intent with the port authority, pulled out — two months after a public announcement of the impending purchase.

Drake has said the decision to shelve the agreement was made by both sides and that the port authority is working with other companies.

While the authority’s CEO contends that Aqua could still lease some right-of-way — it wants to provide water to hydraulic-fracturing operations in Columbiana County — the failure to conclude the sale is significant.

Condition of the rails

When Tervita, an environmental and energy-services company, pulled out, officials cited the condition of the rails and the cost to fix them as reasons the agreement wasn’t completed.

It also expressed concern about contamination it found near the car barn in Negley.

Drake said he believed the contamination occurred in the 1990s, “maybe three owners ago” by an off-site oil spill. The oil encroached on the Y&S property.

He said it was his understanding the contamination had been remediated, but Tervita disagreed.

Nothing is simple when it comes to the Y&S Railroad, but an independent evaluation should be a relatively easy undertaking for the Ohio Rail Development Commission.


Comments

1questionreality(324 comments)posted 1 year, 2 months ago

Where are all the people who, 11 years ago, rallied in favor of the port authority taking over the line instead of converting the rail lie to a trail?

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2NoBS(1982 comments)posted 1 year, 2 months ago

I still don't think a hike-and-bike trail is a reasonable use for the rail right-of-way, because so much of it is simply down the middle of Southern Boulevard. Pavement on both sides, traffic on both sides, and the further north you go, the sketchier the surrounding neighborhood is. But with that said, it's clear that the cost of bringing the rail line back to usable condition is excessive and not a reasonable expense. I'd just like to see grass and trees planted there. No trail. No rails. Just green.

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3questionreality(324 comments)posted 1 year, 2 months ago

NoBS - You might have a change of opinion after reviewing this site:

http://www.railstotrails.org/index.html

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4NoBS(1982 comments)posted 1 year, 2 months ago

Questionreality, I'm not against the rails-to-trails concept. I've been on quite a bit of the Greenway Trail, and enjoyed it. But I don't think Southern Blvd. is the place to create a hiking trail - especially the north, urbanized end of it. Maybe from 224 south would be OK, but north of that I'd just plant grass and trees. Stopping at 224 would also solve the problem of crossing the 50,000+ vehicle per day 224. A bridge or something would be needed, and why spend the money on something very few would use?

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