Sale of Port’s rail line hits new snag

EAST LIVERPOOL – The proposed sale of the Columbiana County Port Authority’s railroad to a major player in the region’s natural gas boom has been delayed again, this time until a minor problem with the title to the property is corrected.

The port board voted at Monday’s meeting to hire the Calcutta engineering firm of Dallis Dawson & Associates to perform the survey work needed before a small section of the 36-mile railway can be transferred into the port’s name. The contract is for $16,000.

The board agreed in late September to sell the railroad to Mule Sidetracks LLC, a subsidiary of MarkWest Energy Partners, which operates a natural gas storage, transportation and processing plant in Harrison County that is receiving gas from the collection and processing plant operating near Kensington.

The railroad runs from Mahoning County into Beaver County, Pa., but most of it lies within Columbiana County.

The sale price is $3 million, and MarkWest was to close on the deal by the end of October but that never happened because of a delay in receiving approval from the U.S. Surface and Transportation Board.

That approval has since been received, but the county engineer’s office, while helping the company hired to perform the title search for the sale, discovered a 1.4-mile section of the railroad was still in the name of previous railroad owners, not the port authority. The section is in Elkrun Township, just west of the village of Rogers.

Port authority CEO Tracy Drake did not know how this was never caught until now, but MarkWest is holding off closing on the sale until all of the property is in the port authority’s name.

Drake expects the survey work to take one to two months, depending on the weather, after which the port authority will have to file a quiet title action in county Common Pleas Court to transfer the property into its name.

“After that, we’re done, and hopefully everything can be transferred” to MarkWest, he said.