GENEVA — Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera said he has nothing against Finger Lakes Railway, but he thinks there might be a better place for its operation.
From a rail yard that obscures views and blocks access of Seneca Lake to what he believes is a paltry amount of tax benefits to the city, Camera thinks it’s time the operation — along with that of the fellow rail-shipping company, Norfolk Southern — get a closer look.
Last month, Camera got his wish when City Council approved the Lakefront Integration Committee, whose charge is to examine the status and impacts of railroad operations on city residents, with the goal of ultimately providing Council with recommendations.
“We know we have something we need to do,” Camera said. “There’s plenty of answers that are needed for the community.”
Among the issues the committee is tackling:
• Ward 6 access to Seneca Lake via what Camera suggests are the city’s legal rights-of-way at Evans and East Pre-Emption streets, which cross railroad property.
• Herbicide spraying along railroad rights-of-way near Seneca Lake.
• Impacts of future development prospects for Middle Street, which runs parallel to Routes 5&20 in the city’s East Lakeview neighborhood and is part of the city’s Brownfield Opportunity Area, which the city hopes to revitalize.
• “Inconsistent and low assessment values” for railroad properties.
Besides Camera, the group includes Greg Bendzlowicz, a county supervisor representing the city; Gary Baxter, a city resident and county treasurer; fellow councilors John Pruett (Ward 6) and Laura Salamendra (Ward 5); and residents Dan Belliveau and Hanna Dickinson.
Camera long has been a proponent of finding a new home for Finger Lakes Railway’s switching yard, saying the operation is a detriment to Ward 6 residents, creating noise and pollution and blocking views and access to Seneca Lake.
“We need access for our people,” Camera said. “We shouldn’t have to cross at Lake Street.”
He thinks there are nearby places outside the city that would be more appropriate for Finger Lakes Railway’s yard operations — and that it would actually be a benefit to the company.
Further, he argued, the city is not adequately compensated for such an operation, noting the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that reduces the tax liability for the railroad and its tracks. According to Camera, Ontario County collects $50,000 from the PILOT and distributes it to each taxing entity. For the city, that’s about $4,000, he indicated.
“It’s a cheesy deal for us, given the impact,” Camera said. “We are only getting a couple of thousand more than Clifton Springs, where (the railroad) only drives through.”
He said Norfolk Southern’s 21 acres of rail property have been assessed at $200,000 for the past 20 years.
Railway will listen
Mike Smith, president of Finger Lakes Railway, said when contacted recently he did not have much knowledge of the new committee but has talked with Camera in the past about the councilor’s concerns.
He welcomed the opportunity to have the railroad meet or even be a part of the committee.
“We would certainly participate,” Smith said. “We’re not the enemies here.”
Addressing the issues the committee wants to research, Smith said there’s another side that needs to be presented. On right-of-way access, Smith has great concerns with any pedestrian access over rail lines.
“This is a very busy yard,” Smith said. “We’re …….