EATON — The Preble County Board of Commissioners extended their regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, to 6 p.m. in order to hear public comments regarding the contract they recently approved with Norfolk Southern Railway which will see three railroad crossings closed within the county.
The meeting was held at National Trail Middle School, and was open to the public.
“The railroad approached us a little over a year ago, and this was basically a ‘tail wag the dog’ type of negotiation,” said Commissioner Adam Craft.
“The final deal that we brokered with the railroad company was $2.4 million to update Toby Road, from Route 35 down to State Route 122, and that’s updating it to county standards. That’s going to be widening it, and that’s going to be correcting the approaches to make it a little bit safer for large vehicle traffic.
“The other $600,000 that we got is split up into two chunks,” Craft continued. “There’s a $300,000, if you will, early ‘sign now’ for signing now for the closures of these roads. The second $300,000 chunk was kind of a good will negotiation that the Ohio Rail Commission came up with, to kind of match everything the railroad had put into the deal. So, the total that the county is receiving right now is a $3 million contract with the railroads,” Craft concluded. He also added, “absolutely none of this money will be going into the general fund.”
National Trail Director of Transportation and Safety John Toschlog, was the first of those in attendance to question the commissioners.
“You had mentioned that $600,000 was the amount that was agreed upon. Has any decision been made on how that $600,000 is going to be spent, or where it’s going to go?” he asked.
Commissioner David Haber responded that, other than distributing finances to the surrounding townships and school districts who will be impacted by the closures, there are no definite plans on where the funds will go. Preble County Engineer Kyle Cross, has estimated bringing Toby Road up to county standards will cost $2.4 million, an amount to be covered by the contract with NSR.
Terri Hans, a resident of the area, questioned commissioners on the status of the railroad siding, and if its removal was included in the contract made with NSR.
Haber noted, whereas the removal of the siding is imminent, the timeframe in which it will be removed is not listed. Haber told those in attendance there is a 15-month timeframe to work out details regarding the addition or removal of railroad equipment. Residents expressed their disdain for the 15-month period, commenting that, “it’s going to get ugly out there.”
Hans also expressed concern Toby Road will be closed at the same time as Oxford-Gettysburg Road, saying the railroad will use the area to “stage trains.” Commissioners assured those in attendance that would not be the case.
Another resident of Jackson Township, Justin Moreland, stated he was uneasy regarding a proposed turnaround near his property.
“This turnaround business — I didn’t agree to an easement with the railroad, I’d sure hate for the county to come to me and say, ‘we need some of your property to make a turnaround’ and try to take it. Because I’m not going to be good with that. That ain’t going to happen. That ain’t going to happen without a fight.”
Though those in attendance presented the commissioners with their questions, and received answers, those gathered were in agreement that, due to a lack of attendance, another meeting should be scheduled in the coming weeks to further discuss the matter with a larger portion of the community.
Commissioners agreed to better advertise the meeting to the public, as well as attempt to bring in a representative of NSR, and other relevant individuals such as the county engineer and National Trail Superintendent Bob Fischer.
As of yet, no date has been scheduled for the next meeting, but commissioners are looking at early October.
In other business:
•Commissioners approved Resolution #459-22-200, which established a new fund for the construction upgrades to Toby Road as provided by the contract with NSR.
•Commissioners congratulated Kenneth “Dean” Miller on the occasion of his retirement from the Preble County Sheriff’s Office, and thanked him for his many years of service.