Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Queensgate Terminals proposal left off of council agenda

On October 6, Cincinnati City Council's Economic Development Committee voted down a report advocating for the construction of a $26 million barge-to-rail operation to 31 acres along the Lower Price Hill riverfront, keeping the matter from being placed on the full council agenda.

More than a half dozen speakers from Lower Price Hill and surrounding neighborhoods spoke out against the proposal by Bluegrass Farms of Ohio, Inc. and Rail America to build Queensgate Terminals, citing concerns about light, noise and pollution for current residents, and its possible effects on more than $100 million in proposed development.

Instead, speakers continued to advocate for the land to be used for residential or recreational uses that could benefit the wider community and spur more rapid redevelopment.

In the report, City manager Milton Dohoney Jr. reiterated his argument from December 2007 that the site is ill-suited for residential or recreational use, saying that, being zoned RF-C Riverfront Commercial and RF-M Riverfront Manufacturing and surrounded by industrial uses, rezoning would result in a "significant change in land use".

The City's Department of Community Development has been trying to bring a container-to-barge port to the site for nearly ten years.

"The future land use of the property will depend on accessibility," he said. "It is unlikely that the railroads will consent to a general public track crossing for park and recreation uses. There is an increased risk of serious accidents with park and recreational uses that generate significant automotive and pedestrian traffic adjacent to four active railroad lines."

But to the Lower Price Hill Community Council (LPHCC), reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct and relocation of the existing railroad lines farther south will eat away at the existing 31-acre riverfront, making the site unsuitable for "an international barge port to China".

"The City of Cincinnati contradicts its own existing plan for Lower Price Hill's riverfront if it imposes a barge port here," said the LPHCC in a media release. "Plans are approved and ready to go for the replacement of the aging Waldvogel Viaduct in Lower Price Hill. The new viaduct will be constructed 50 feet to the south of the existing structure. To accommodate that move, existing railroad tracks will likewise be moved a further 50 feet south on Lower Price Hill's riverfront. The city's viaduct plan includes a public park and bike trails for the reduced south side of the riverfront."

Is it neighborhood-friendly?

Dohoney called the project "neighborhood-friendly", noting its 60-foot buffer, hike-bike trail, solar panels, wind turbines, and green roofs.

He also pointed out that the German-made electric cranes will keep noise and emissions low, and that containers will not be allowed to be stored on site.

In his opinion, that would make Queensgate Terminals, which would move containers of grain (specifically soybeans) from barge to Rail – then to a Bluegrass Farms mutli-modal facility in Jeffersonville, Ohio – a much better neighbor than the current one.

"For the last 20 years, the site has been a concrete recycling facility that busted up concrete in between two rollers, and sounded like dynamite going off," Dohoney said. "It also blew dust all over the neighborhood."

While not disagreeing with that assessment, the LPHCC said that the City still refuses to hear its concerns.

"Neither the city manager, nor the mayor of Cincinnati has shown the courtesy to respond to letters from the Lower Price Hill Community Council, or to our June 10, 2009, 22-page, well-documented request for a comprehensive risk assessment of the safety and health hazards posed by a barge port near homes and schools," the LPHCC said.

Dohoney touts benefits

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has called himself an "enthusiastic supporter" of the proposal, part the Ohio Valley Trade Corridor, a network of multi-modal centers to be located throughout the state.

In addition to its importance to the Ohio, Dohoney said that Queensgate Terminals and the Bluegrass Farms multi-modal project are an integral part of a massive network that would link to existing ports in New Orleans, Houston and Mobile and to two new container-to-barge terminals – the State of Lousiana's MegaPort and Lykes Brothers' Sea Point.

"Analysis indicates that the total economic impact, a combination of direct, indirect and induced effects, to the Greater Cincinnati area of the first five years of operation includes the creation of $105 million in total economic activity, nearly $25 million in total household earnings, an estimated total of 140 new jobs, and about a total $7 million in tariff revenues for the City," he said.

But of more pressing importance to the City, Dohoney maintained that there could be liability issues if it fails to negotiate the lease agreement with Queensgate Terminals, a requirement of the settlement of a 2007 court case over property takings for the Waldvogel Viaduct project.

"If the City does not settle the lawsuit with Queensgate, the City faces potential damages of approximately one million dollars plus any legal fees generated by the court case," he said.

The LPHCC has promised to continue fighting Queensgate Terminals, much as it has fought a scrap metals operation proposed for the north end of the neighborhood.

"The Lower Price Hill Community Council will vigorously protest the City of Cincinnati's lack of coherent management, senseless planning, and disregard for the residents and existing businesses and schools of Lower Price Hill," the LPHCC said.

Previous reading on BC:
Lower Price Hill: City solicitor must recuse himself, City must assess Queensgate Terminals' impacts (6/22/09)
Martin says Queensgate Terminals will be 'something that Cincinnati people are proud of' (5/4/09)
River West Working Group latest to oppose Queensgate Terminals (4/16/09)
Professor calls newest Queensgate Terminals report 'flawed' (3/18/09)
River West Working Group: Queensgate Terminals report 'unacceptable' (4/7/08)