EAST LIVERPOOL - The proposed sale of the Columbiana County Port Authority's railroad was canceled earlier this month after the prospective buyer raised concerns about potential ground contamination.
The port authority wants to find out if those concerns were justified, with the board voting at this week's meeting to hire a Canfield environmental engineering firm to test for contamination.
"It's something we have to do. It's been forced on us, and we'll do what we have to do," said port authority CEO Tracy Drake of the $59,450 contract with Tetra Tech Inc.
Tervita LLC, was scheduled to purchase the 36-mile former Youngstown & Southern Railroad from the port authority but pulled out of the deal after reportedly coming across contamination at the area in Negley where the repair shop and rail car barn are located. The company indicated an old storage tank had leaked diesel fuel onto the ground.
Drake said before the only possible contamination they were aware of predated the port authority's purchase of the railroad in 2000. It was his understanding the contamination came from an adjoining commercial property and had been remediated.
That is why the port authority is hiring Tetra to perform the necessary environmental tests to determine if any contamination exists in the ground or groundwater. Drake said it is possible some contamination will be found.
"The railroad goes back to the 1870s, and no railroad is pristine," he said, adding is it unlikely any extensive contamination will be discovered.
"I don't think we're going to find a lot of work that needs to be done, that's my personal opinion," he said.
After the meeting, board member Tim Weigle said he could find nothing in Tervita's letter to the port authority leading him to believe the company performed any environmental assessment of its own other than a visual inspection of the repair shop/car barn property.
Tervita had agreed to purchase the railroad for $2.9 million and had provided a $150,000 down payment, which Drake said they might keep, depending on the outcome of the environmental assessment.
"If in fact there is not any material environmental issues, we would recommend the board not return the deposit," he said.
The railroad has been used almost exclusively to transport construction and demolition debris to a landfill in Negley operated by Total Waste Logistics. Drake indicated Tervita is interested in purchasing the landfill, which is why he thought they were interested in the railroad.
"If they're going ahead with the acquisition of the landfill you would think they would want the railroad," he said of the Canadian firm, which provides environmental and energy services to various industries.