COLUMBIANA - After a year-and-a-half of study and discussion, Fairfield Township trustees on Thursday voted down a resolution to close the Esterly Road railroad crossing by a 2-1 vote.
The resolution included incentive money from the Ohio Rail Development Commission and closing the crossing would have accommodated a closed-loop rail inside the Buckeye Realty Transfer facility where the company operates a full-service transloading station that serves the oil and gas industry.
Trustee Chairman Bob Hum and Trustee Carl Garwood voted no on the voluntary closing. Trustee Barry Miner voted for it.
Hum, with 12 years on the board, and Garwood with 14 years, both said it was the most difficult vote they ever made.
The resolution was one of two presented and was voted on because it had the most financial incentive for the township.
With either resolution, one of the two entranceways to the Buckeye Transfer facility would have been closed, an issue that ultimately convinced Hum to vote against it.
Buckeye Realty currently distributes fracking sand by the tank-load and a brine water cleaning system is planned at the 91-acre facility.
It will also be a transfer point for products removed from oil and gas wells to be loaded from trucks onto railcars. The closed-loop rail would have made it possible for 100-car unitrains to operate for less cost and more efficiently, said Dave Crandall of Fairmont Minerals that supplies fracking sand through the facility.
The Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce backed the closing along with the ORDC and a number of residents in attendance.
Norfolk Southern said it will not service the facility unless the railroad crossing is closed and Casey Talbott, representing the railroad, reviewed how they arrived at Thursday's vote.
Several others spoke in favor of it including Buckeye Realty Transfer officials, while Mary Ossoff of the neighboring Valley Golf Club and Chuck Beiling spoke against.
Beiling questioned why there wasn't a third option that would leave to leave the crossing open or a contingency and "a way to alleviate all the trucks."
Estimates of 100 trucks a day had been discussed.
After the meeting, Hum, an attorney, said he "never expected this to be such a difficult decision." He added it made him "sad" to vote no "but I will be able to sleep tonight."
Garwood said, "I can't make myself believe closing that railroad crossing will be of value to us ... maybe that's wrong but that's what I believe."
Hum said he believed the oil and gas boom is set to economically explode and "safety, safety, safety" was on his mind along with the conditional use of the terminal that says the crossing will not adversely affect the adjoining property.
He drove out and observed the roads from five or six different locations to gain an overall perspective.
"I've been doing that for a year," he said.
"Chesapeake didn't spend all this money for nothing," he explained while noting other nearby businesses supplied by big trucks had separate entrances and exits for them, a modification at the Buckeye Transfer facility he would welcome and change his vote on regarding the rail crossing.
"One entrance and exit doesn't make sense," he said. "We're asking for trouble."
Unfolding a map of the area, Hum pointed to an area off state Route 344 where that could be done, just up from Esterly Drive where about $280,000 in state money has been earmarked for state Route 344/Esterly Drive/Cherry Fork roads.
"There's no reason why Buckeye can't make their own entrance, a separate entrance off 344 and run that back to their facility. And, for less money. They do that, I could care less about the crossing.
"I want two openings. Safety, safety, safety."
"I really believe this industry is going to explode," Hum said. "They're taking two ways in and out and shoving it into one and that bothers me."
He pointed out that in a couple of years truck traffic could be as high as 400 trucks a day and "if they got their own entrance and exit, I don't care about the crossing. That would take care of everything."
During the meeting, he said he was concerned about what they would be leaving their children.
"I want it to work," Hum said, "I don't want to jeopardize people. You just can't shove all that traffic down a funnel.
"I'm not happy about my vote but I can sleep tonight. Normally, somebody's got to die before they start paying attention and I'm not going to have that."
After the vote, Buckeye Realty officials and supporters left the meeting cordially and Hum said that Casey said he was going to file an application for an involuntary closure of the crossing through the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
"I'm offering them a solution," Hum said, "but if that's what they want to do ..."
He didn't finish the thought but said that things could become "political" if am involuntary closure was sought.
"That's why I said to Casey to 'call me' as they left," Hum said.