Friday, March 9, 2012

Panhandle Rail Milestones

On the left is the Panhandle Trail installed 18+/- years ago. On the right is the Panhandle Rail Line bought by the State of Ohio 20 years ago.

Both saw historical milestones this week.

The 160-mile rail line has, for more than 12 years, been the object of possession by its operators who have leased the line for 20 years on five-year leases. Once, it was within days of being sold for $6 million despite a $63 million appraised value and with no key state provisions preserved for the benefit of developers and shippers.

The long-discussed compromise to outright sale got approved yesterday by the Ohio Rail Development Commission. A 25-year long-term lease which gave the current operator stability and certainty got approved. It contained provisions to preserve the unique state stewardship (maintenance standards, customer satisfaction, etc.) and competitive access rights. Plus, the state retained ownership.

The adjacent bike path also got preserved in two ways. For one, continued state ownership of the rail land preserves the likelihood the bike path will get to stay. The rail operator's previous owner detested the path and would have likely tried to bring its demise had he gained full ownership of the rails.

Second, the voters of Licking County ok'd a levy, by a 53-47 margin, to preserve and maintain the bike paths of Licking County, including this extraordinary trail along the Panhandle.

March 2012 should long be remembered for these two milestones in the history of Licking County.

It's personal too. My Dad was active with both of these things 20+ years ago. He'd be proud.

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