Avon Lake hosts meeting for resident questions on railroad safety

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 8:31 PM EST
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AVON LAKE, Ohio (WOIO) - Some Avon Lake residents near the railroad tracks are concerned about safety and the possibility of a derailment.

The devastating derailment in East Palestine that spilled hazardous materials into the environment has been top of mind for many who live near railways.

Avon Lake Fire Chief Jeremy Betsa joined the city’s mayor and others at a meeting Wednesday night at Learwood Middle School. The meeting an opportunity for residents in Avon Lake to ask about safety precautions in the event a train jumps the tracks near their homes. Chief Betas says the reality is, just like in East Palestine, “There are hazardous materials that go on those tracks through Avon Lake. There’s no specific mandate today that says the railroad has to inform us about what and when is coming through the town.”

Ted Haas works at a gardening store next to the tracks and sees several trains pass through everyday.

At any given time hazardous materials could be on board, so it has crossed his mind that a disaster, like in East Palestine, could happen.

“They’re really moving a lot of stuff, so I can see how it can be a little bit concerning if stuff happens to derail and it could cause issues,” Haas said.

Avon Lake fire chief Jeremy Betsa has received several concerns, like Haas’, from residents.

He said his firefighters are prepared for any hazmat situation in the community.

“The hazardous materials team for the county, we do have a couple members from Avon Lake that assist with that team,” Betsa said. “They are our local resource for any hazardous materials.”

Betsa said the department has a plan in place if a derailment were to happen.

“Every chemical has the potential to cause harm, injury, even death, so we always have a hot zone radius, warm zone radius, cold zone radius,” Betsa said.

“All those areas will be evacuated. The rest of the town may be able to shelter in place.”

Haas said he has never seen anything of concern on the tracks and he hopes it stays that way.

“We hope that this is the last time something like this happens and they got a hold on it now, but you’re never too sure,” Haas said.

Mayor Greg Zilka tells 19 News that Avon Lakes’ current law director worked for Bay Village back in 1998 and he was instrumental in fighting to get information from the railroad about what hazardous chemicals and waste were coming through the area before the train hits the tracks.

“They actually got Norfolk Southern to agree to let them know when hazardous waste or hazardous chemicals were coming through the city. So, that was a 1998 agreement and we’re going to look at trying to get that established here in Avon Lake,” Mayor Zilka said.