Rail sale remains on unsteady track

EAST LIVERPOOL – Is the Columbiana County Port Authority’s latest attempt to sell its 36-mile railroad about to fall through?

Port Authority Chief Executive Office Tracy Drake reported at Monday’s board meeting the proposed sale of the railroad to Aqua Infrastructure LLC is still alive, even though the company missed the June 30 deadline to close on the deal.

“We’re in discussions about some conditional extensions,” Drake said, before he and the board met in executive session to discuss the proposed sale.

The board agreed in February to enter into a non-binding letter of intent to sell the former Youngstown & Southern Railroad to Aqua Infrastructure for $3 million. Aqua is a subsidiary of Aqua America, a private water supplier that said it intends to keep the railroad operating but is more interested in the property. Aqua wants to run a waterline along the railroad right-of-way, which it would use to supply water to oil and gas drilling sites in the area through a series of secondary lines.

Aqua was required to make a $50,000 down payment and had until June 30 to decide whether to follow through on the purchase. The deadline came and went, but Drake told another publication in late June it would take another two weeks to complete negotiations.

Drake reminded the Journal the Port Authority entered into conditional extensions during talks with Tervita, the previous company that was interested in purchasing the railroad before pulling out last year after claiming there were serious contamination issues with some of the property, which is disputed by the Port Authority.

When asked if he could speak to the specific sticking points, Drake declined, other than to say, “It’s a matter of operational issues.”

The railroad runs from Boardman in Mahoning County to Darlington, Pa., in Beaver County, although the majority lies within Columbiana County. The Port Authority acquired the railroad in 2000 to keep it from being scrapped, believing it could still serve as a catalyst for economic development in the area. Since then, the Port Authority has tried, with varying degrees of success, to lease or sell the railroad to companies interested in resuming operations.