ELYRIA — The city of Elyria is not being used as a scapegoat for the problems the county is having completing the passenger rail platform project that would replace the current Amtrak station, according to County Administrator Jim Cordes.
At Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting, Cordes expressed frustration with Elyria over the city’s refusal to back the county on a variance for the project that would allow the facility to be built without adding restrooms. Cordes said during the meeting he was “completely aggravated by it.”
Cordes said that while he’s frustrated with the city not backing the county on the variance, it’s just one of a number of issues that have plagued the project.
“My biggest frustration is with Norfolk Southern, but I am frustrated that we informed the city’s representatives going into this we had to have that variance,” Cordes said. “They were adamant that they wanted bathrooms.”
Brinda said she believed the bathrooms would add about $20,000 to a $14 million project, but Cordes said that’s not the case. He said the project is about $11 million for starters, and adding restrooms to the facility is a larger undertaking than Brinda realizes.
“The building wasn’t designed for the space to put bathrooms in,” Cordes said. “It’s a separate building, because we can’t go up through the tracks. There also are no services out there. There’s no sewer pipes out there. There’s no water lines out there.”
Cordes said adding restrooms would cost an additional $163,000.
He also said the commissioners aren’t interested in opening the county’s Transportation Center — many locals would remember the brick building in downtown Elyria for when it was used as a beauty school — at 3 a.m. to allow passengers access to the restrooms in it. He also pointed out that Amtrak has restrooms on its trains and said the average commute for those who use the Elyria Amtrak station is about 15 to 20 minutes.
Brinda said that she has reached out to the commissioners and Cordes multiple times saying the city was willing to help with the project and asked to meet about the issue. She forwarded a copy of a letter to The Chronicle-Telegram dated Jan. 2 that was sent to the county on the matter.
In the letter, the mayor said she believed it would be a “grave mistake and a waste of substantial time, effort and money that have already gone into this much needed project” if the county doesn’t move forward and loses the federal funding it has received for it.
Brinda also said “I would like to request a meeting to discuss how the City of Elyria can help advance Phase 2 of this project. ... I look forward to hearing from you.”
The mayor said she never received a response from the county.
Cordes said there’s a reason for that.
“We don’t need any help right now,” he said. “We’re not dealing with issues where we require the assistance of the city of Elyria. If you need help, you ask for help. We didn’t ask them for any help.
“The mayor has offered some operating assistance if that becomes a problem. It’s a good possibility that when we get all the dust settled on this we may want to have a talk on that. Right now, it’s premature to have that conversation because we’re still trying to get this thing built.”
Cordes joked that if Brinda “has any way of contacting Norfolk Southern and making them more cooperative,” he’d certainly take that help.
One of the biggest sticking points in the project is the railroad’s stance on an indemnification clause with the project, which would mean it wouldn’t be liable for any litigation.
“Anything that happens up there — any litigation, or somebody falls and stubs a toenail and sues us — we have to pay for that,” Cordes said. “There’s no liability for Norfolk Southern for any of that.”