Buckeye official: RR crossing must close or no service

COLUMBIANA – The bottom line is Norfolk Southern Railroad will not service the Buckeye Transfer Realty transloading facility unless the railroad crossing on Esterly Drive is closed.

Lisa Wallace, general counsel for Buckeye Transfer, made that point during a public hearing before more than 30 people and Fairfield Township trustees on Thursday.

Trustee Chairman Bob Hum said trustees could vote on the issue during its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Dec.19.

If trustees vote to close the crossing, it will join Norfolk Southern, which owns the railroad, and the Ohio Rail Development Commission in requesting the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which has the final word on it, for a “voluntary closure.”

The township has assisted in obtaining more than $250,000 in state money to upgrade roads near the 90-acre facility.

D. Casey Talbott, an attorney representing Norfolk Southern, said that was one of two ways to have the PUCO close it. The other would be by petition.

The rail closing will help accommodate a closed-loop rail inside the facility that will transload condensate from truck to rail tank cars from area oil and gas wells.

In order to accommodate unitrains (100-car units), a 7,200 section of the loop crosses Esterly Drive on the north outside the main plant, then makes a sweeping curve to the south and re-enters the facility on the south adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s main line, and the crossing at Esterly Drive.

Closing the crossing will leave dead-ends to the north and south on Esterly Drive.

Upwards of 127 trains a day, including Amtrak, use the crossing which Catherine Stout of the ORDC said has not had a recorded accident but rated the crossing as more hazardous than the crossing at Creek Road in the township.

The redundancy, or the ability to re-route traffic to another entrance/exit, played a role in the ORDC’s thinking, she said.

“Do you have a lot of traffic or an adjacent access?” she said was one question.

“The reason Esterly Drive piqued the state and our interest is redundancy … separate and apart (from safety) … this is a crossing that would be appropriate for closing. It’s relatively lightly traveled and you have the ability to re-direct the traffic to an adjacent overpass.”

Stout said the ORDC looks at the hazard and business side in its ratings, but said, “The decision to close is yours … I hope you really consider closing it. If I can make a decision that will avoid an accident I will.”

She explained that if the decision went to the PUCO by petition, the ORDC would have no position either way on the closing.

It was where the traffic was being rerouted to that drew most of the concern and criticism from guests against the crossing closing.

Some called the turn-off from state Route 344 to the northern part of Esterly Drive “dangerous” and firefighters were concerned about access if a portion of the roads became blocked during an emergency.

Several people were concerned about younger, inexperienced motorists on roads, trucks jackknifing at the turn onto Esterly Drive from state Route 344 and dust.

One business owner on the south side of the crossing said it would cause problems for trucks backing onto his property that come down Esterly Drive from the north.

Mary Ann Ossoff and her husband, Ted, owners of the Valley Golf Club, said their safety concerns weren’t with the railroad crossing but at state Route 344 and Esterly Drive intersection.

“Our contention is that intersection is already an unsafe intersection,” she said.

“Our contention is not to force people to be involved in a dangerous intersection. It’s a safety issue.

“Some look at it as the railroad being the villain. We look at it as the intersection being the villain.”

Ted Ossoff presented trustees with a petition with 100 signatures against the closing, noting, “I’m sure you’ve heard from law enforcement (about safety concerns), this isn’t the end.”

Randy Hart, president of the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce and several other members spoke in “continued” support of the closing the crossing.

Wallace and attorney Mark Huston spoke on the background and history regarding how Buckeye Transfer Realty, which also plans to build brine reclamation capabilities, a pud mill operation, pipe storage and a truck staging area, arrived where it is.

Hum said if trustees didn’t vote on the issue at the Dec. 19 meeting, they could take action later.

If trustees decide to close the crossing, the “natural progression” would be to vacate Esterly Drive from the crossing north to Cherry Fork Road because Buckeye Transfer Realty owns the property on both sides.