The Ohio Rail Development Commission will hold a presentation on the closure of the Franklin Street railroad crossing that runs through the center of the Village of Lewis Center.
“This was in response to the dual railroad companies, CSX and Norfolk Southern, in giving the township 45 days in which to make a determination … to petition for closure of the Franklin Street crossing,” said Orange Township Administrator Lee Bodnar during the Sept. 17 Orange Township Board of Trustees meeting.
Matthew Dietrich, Ohio Rail Development Commission executive director, is scheduled to meet with trustees during their new meeting time at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, in the township hall at 1680 E. Orange Road, Lewis Center.
During their Sept. 17 regular meeting, trustees approved changing the meeting schedule by a 2-1 vote. The change involves shifting the time of the meeting on the first Monday of the month from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. The third Monday of the month meeting will remain at 7 p.m.
“We had discussion at the last meeting of changing our first meeting of the month to a daytime meeting in order to change it up a little bit. The employees can come during the day,” said Trustee Lisa Knapp, board chair, during the Sept. 17 meeting. “We feel that having two evening meetings a month is not serving the entire needs of the township. We’re going to give this a try.”
Both meetings will continue to be held in the township hall.
Trustee Debbie Taranto, who voted against changing the meeting time, stated that in the past, Knapp was emphatic about day meetings not being fair to residents. She said Knapp had said that the board wasn’t being transparent because residents couldn’t attend the earlier meetings to ask questions or talk about an issue.
“For example, we haven’t even voted on the resolution, and we’ve already scheduled (the Ohio Railroad Development Commission) to come at 10 a.m. on Oct. 1. We all know that this is a very serious subject for the people that live in Lewis Center and the closing of that particular railroad,” Taranto said. “In my mind, we wouldn’t want to have a meeting like that at 10 a.m., because we would want them to be able to come to discuss it, to ask questions, to hear the presentation by the rail commission.”
She then directed her comments to Knapp.
“You have always talked about transparency and how important it was that the residents, who pay everyone’s salary here, have the opportunity to come,” she said. “We all accepted this job to work for the residents of the township. I know that the staff would love it and I get that, but we’re here for the residents. It’s a red flag for me. It’s a concern.”
Taranto stated that she was open to change but had seen residents change the minds of the other trustees during the meeting.
Knapp said that the residents are always free to comment via email, text or calls to give input.
“There is actually no legal requirement that you allow any public comment at a meeting,” Knapp said. “We’ll be having the more controversial meetings in the evenings, and more business things during the day.”
Both Trustee Ryan Rivers and Knapp expressed admiration for the efficiency in which the county commissioners conduct their regular meetings. They both are looking to implement a video system much like the Delaware County Board of Commissioners use for its meetings.
“The county commissioners actually hold their meetings during the day at 9:30 a.m., and those run very efficiently,” Knapp said. “They’ve had no complaints. We’re kind of modeling it after them.”
Knapp said the board would give adequate notice of the morning meetings so people have plenty of time to participate.
Rivers added that “several” of those who would attend the Ohio Rail Commission meeting “are retired, so a day meeting may be easier for them to make.”
“I would agree that absolutely it’s critical that we have the input of the public. I would like to see us have more open houses,” he said. “Really, as far as the trustee meeting (in) getting input and having residents come in, it’s not the best forum for that. It’s very limited as far as what input they can give.”
Rivers added he would like to see “more channels to get input.”
“By the time it comes to a trustee meeting, we pretty much have all the information put together. Versus the mix of having a decision in front of us and having others speak as well,” he said. “I think as the largest township in Delaware County, it’s about efficiency and getting there. We need to look at the model of the county commissioners, doing more and expanding more, and adding more flexibility in getting input from the public.”
Taranto asked if the commission was offered to move the meeting to the evening meeting on Oct. 15.
“No,” Bodnar said.
History of the Franklin Street Crossing:
• The Ohio Rail Development Commission conducted a study in 2016, identifying the crossing as being redundant because both sides of the railroad have access to Lewis Center Road. The commission’s study also showed the crossing to be unsafe, because it lacked crossing signals and gates.
• The commission approached Orange Township trustees in June 2017, offering incentives for expediting the construction of the proposed new trail crossings on Orange Road and Lewis Center Road if the township would support the closing.
• The commission further enticed support by offering $37,500 for any additional cost the township might incur relative to the closing of the crossing.
• Residents have voiced their concerns of closing the crossing at several trustees meetings since the time of the study.
• Bodnar stated in a past trustees meeting that time is running out and that the commission will come in and close the crossing with or without community support.
“After five years, they are going to reach a point, sooner rather than later, of doing something,” he told trustees and residents.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.