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Commissioners deal with railroad blockages; motion tabled to reappoint EMA director

Photo by HAROLD BOSSTICK: This is at the intersection of Frakes and State streets on the north end where a stopped trained created traffic problems for over 24 hours in Sullivan.

The Sullivan County Commissioners are looking for a solution to appease Sullivan-area motorists being halted for long periods of time at CSX Railroad crossings.

One train blockage early last week at the Frakes Street crossing, near State Street in Sullivan, lasted almost two days.

“I made several phone calls (Tuesday),” commissioners' president Bob Davis said. "I don't know if with any success or not. The last one I talked to was CSX police and they were going to report it. That number is on that crossing arm is where I got it. 

“They were going to report it to the dispatcher and see if they couldn’t get something done with it. I talked with several people at (Indiana Department of Transportation) and finally got that number.” 

Davis said motorists are figuring out how to avoid blockages at this crossing.

“Most people that drive out to Lakeside West, when they want to turn there at the (American) Legion, you always kind of try to look ahead of time to see if the tracks are covered or not,” he said. “But it’s not usually for this length of time.

“Everybody I’ve talked to said, well, CSX will tell you they are the railroad and we’ll do what we want to do. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.”

A question was raised at the commissioners’ meeting if law enforcement could ticket the railroad. 

“With the ruling that came down from the (Indiana) Supreme Court just this last year, we don’t have the ability to ticket them like we used to,” Davis said. “We can ticket them, but they don’t hold any weight.”

Davis was referring to the Indiana Supreme Court striking down last September a more than 150-year-old state law that allowed local governments to fine railroads when a stopped train blocks a street for more than 10 minutes.

According to an Associated Press story reporting on the ruling, justices unanimously agreed that the 1865 Blocked Crossing Statute was pre-empted by the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. The act prohibits states from enacting a law or rule that manages or governs rail transportation.

The high court advised communities dealing with blocked crossings to seek assistance from the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The commissioners also tabled a motion to reappoint Jim Pirtle as Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency director during its meeting last week.

Commissioner Ray McCammon made the motion for a two-year term, but questions arose from the other two commissioners,  John Waterman Sr. and Davis.

“The confusion I’m getting pointed at me is whether (Pirtle) was ever appointed by the commissioners,” Davis explained.

“He was hired as part-time EMA (director) in the minutes from a commissioners’ meeting in 2006,” Davis said. “Then in council meeting minutes they approved the full-time salary. It doesn’t mention his name in the council meetings. So we’re going to do some research to find out if the commissioners appointed him as a full-time person. 

“I don’t know what the reason it’s being asked about, but anyway, that’s what’s being pointed at me,” he added. “I wasn’t against Ray’s appointment nomination, I just want to make sure if it’s already been done, why do we need to do it again. And that’s what I want to find out right now.”

Davis explained some position appointments are made every year, while others fall under a state statute they’re appointed for a certain length of time.

“That’s one of the questions that somebody’s dragging up and being thrown at me,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to make sure everything is straight before I say yes or no. 

“Ray and I had a little disagreement on that, but we saw each other’s point. We went on and we’ll discuss it at the next meeting. Hopefully we’ll have all the things found out between now and then.”

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