Railroad concern spurs county meeting with ORC

By Tim Colliver - tcolliver@aimmediamidwest.com

A Tuesday meeting with members of the Ohio Rail Commission and the Ohio Department of Transportation at the invitation of the village of Greenfield was described as “encouraging, productive and helpful” by commissioner Jeff Duncan, as Greenfield continues to find ways to repair and upgrade the rail line it owns that extends from the village into Clinton County.

“There were some upgrades done several years ago, but it was mainly on crossings,” Duncan said. “There’s still a lot of ties that need to be replaced.”

He said Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin and Safety and Service Director Gary Lewis rode with a representative of the Ohio & Indiana Railroad on Monday, and indicated the inspection tour revealed that many of the ties need replacement in order to keep the rail line serviceable.

Overpass work on the rail line is set to begin in the next two weeks, Duncan said, with cost estimates ranging from $29,000 on one of the bridges and $9,000 for the other, with Greenfield footing the bill.

There would be no service interruptions during construction, according to Duncan, and the rail line would continue to be operational.

The aging railroad ties are the reason the speed limit on the line has been reduced to just 10 mph, but Duncan said the intention is that once upgrades are completed the speed limit can be increased to the levels of several years ago, which was 25 mph.

He said in securing a longterm solution for the degrading rail line that funding sources may be available to assist Greenfield and Highland County, with the cost projected to be $182,000 alone for tie replacement.

“A lot of those sources look to be a matchable type of situation,” Duncan said. “We’ll have to determine how the village and the county might be able to meet those requirements down the road since they’re looking at a possible five-year project.”

Duncan stressed the importance of helping Greenfield find a solution to the rail line, saying that 1,200 jobs in Greenfield, Leesburg and New Vienna depend on it.

In other news from the meeting, American Electric Power informed commissioners last week of plans to upgrade the power transmission line between Hillsboro and Lebanon, with Duncan indicating that most of the work would be done in the western part of Highland County.

Highland, Clinton and Warren counties would be involved in the upgrade, Duncan said, with 17 miles of power lines combined into a single cable between Hillsboro and Blanchester, with another 19-mile stretch of lines combined into one line between Blanchester and Lebanon.

Construction will begin early next year, he said, with the upgrade scheduled for completion in 2021.

It was reported during last week’s meeting that Muirfield Energy, the “energy shoppers” for the county, had submitted a contract with $2 million in savings in energy costs.

“I misquoted it when I looked over at the sheet,” Duncan said. “I should’ve said it was a savings of two million kilowatt hours, which is a savings to the county of about $75,000 over a period of three years.”

Commissioner Gary Abernathy addressed an issue that has become a hot topic in local health care, that being the lack of ambulette service in the county.

He described ambulette service as non-emergency patient transport between health care facilities, or arrangements made for regular transport of patients to dialysis clinics or hospitals.

“It’s gotten worse since East Ambulance went out of business,” Abernathy said. “Being a rural area like we are, it’s not profitable to do this type of service given the low Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.”

He said he had recent meetings with companies that have expressed an interest in closing that gap, and will be meeting with officials from Highland District Hospital in the near future as well, citing their concerns that in some cases it may be a five- to six-hour wait for ambulette transport.

Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley told commissioners the 2018 audit had been completed with no issues.

“All of the bills have been paid, as far as the audit costs and all that,” Fawley said. “The audit was fine. We only had two citations where the year before we had four, all the grants had been approved, so all in all, we had a pretty good audit.”

In other matters, seven line item budget transfers and budget modifications were approved, in addition to one contract between the Highland County Department of Job and Family Services and Walmart for their back to school project.

Duncan described it as a valuable annual project that benefitted nearly 950 local families.

Commissioners then went into executive session to discuss personnel matters with animal control officers Lanny Brown II and Cathy Seifer, later emerging into regular session to meet with Grady Benefits representative Melinda Brown and American Fidelity’s Brent Rempke.

After exiting executive session, the commissioners stated they would be raising dog license fees from $12 to $14, and that it would be finalized by resolution in next Wednesday’s meeting.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

By Tim Colliver