City-railroad contract chugs right along

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lewisburg councilmen have taken another step toward establishment of a loading and unloading zone for railroad boxcars in the vicinity of the closed Sanford pencil factory.

Questions raised by Councilman Ronald McRady are being sent to CSX lawyers in Jacksonville, Fla., so contracts could be signed between the city and the railroad, according to discussion during a council session late last month.

McRady combed the contracts in recent weeks, looking for sentences that could result in liabilities and cost the city money. Alan K. Beaty, the CSX regional manager who has offices in Brentwood, attended the council's session last week, answered questions and sought to explain technicalities of the contracts and railroad operations.

Beaty referred councilmen to a CSX official in Jacksonville, and some of the discussion included observations about train companies' historic authority.

At one point, Councilman Robin Minor asked Beaty: "So we have to keep the tracks up, but we don't own the property?"

Mayor Barbara Woods, a former principal of Lewisburg Middle School where Minor works, responded, "You're a history teacher. You know how the country got the railroad started."

After more discussion, Minor concluded most of the contract doesn't apply to the city because the tracks are already there.

"Yes," Beaty replied.

What followed were various aspects of track repair. According to the discussion during the session on Nov. 18 in City Hall, there's a good chance that a dock might generate enough additional revenue for the railroad so that some fees charged by the railroad would not be applicable here.

McRady recommended that the council refer the railroad contract back to the city's Industrial Development Board. The spur and proposed dock have been discussed by the IDB, but without a conclusion.

A couple of councilmen simultaneously asked why the council should refer the issue to the IDB, noting that the tracks and dock area are already city property.

"This involves industry," McRady replied, "so I think this needs to go back" to the IDB.

Minor responded, "They can't make a decision for the city."

Councilwoman Quinn Brandon Stewart agreed; it's a council decision, but it wouldn't hurt to get an opinion from the IDB. Besides, getting answers to McRady's questions may take time, thereby providing the IDB an opportunity to discuss the issue again during its meeting at noon on the first Monday of the month.

Woods wanted to know what time frame should be known and Beaty replied that the track is open now.

The original reason for the discussion - a request from Brother's Fine Foods - was repeated by Lewisburg Industrial Development Director Greg Lowe and Minor repeated his reason for supporting the request for a loading and unloading area.

"I was against this," Minor said. "But when I found out we are covered by tort liability, I changed my mind."

The Tennessee Tort Liability Act of 1974 protects local governments from juries that award very high damages to those who sue. Tort limits are adjusted at times to coincide with inflation, according to Travis McCarter an attorney at Baker Associates of Sevierville, a law firm specializing in representing personal injury cases.

Current limits are $300,000 per person for bodily injury or death, McCarter said. "It can go up to $700,000 for all persons in one incident with two or 50 people."

There are various other specifications, according to a 1999 study of the law.

As a result of the discussion, city staff agreed to send McRady's questions to the railroad. It remained to be seen whether the IDB would debate the contracts.