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Lansford lawyer to review railroad sale

Lansford has hired a law firm to review the county’s recent sale of a 19.5-mile rail line to the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad.

The president of Lansford Borough Council believes that the town is a part owner of the rail line. The county says that while Lansford will get more than $500,000 from the sale of the railroad, the county was the sole owner.

“The 3,000 taxpayers (of Lansford) own that railroad. We have to make sure they are being properly treated with that sale,” said Bruce Markovich, president of Lansford Borough Council.

In May, RBMN agreed to pay $3 million to purchase the former Panther Valley Railroad, which begins south of Jim Thorpe and runs north and west to Rush Township, Schuylkill County. The deal also requires RBMN to put another $1.7 million into rail line improvements, including a new pedestrian crossing in Jim Thorpe.

The county has owned the line in 1981. However Lansford has always received 25 percent of the revenue from the railroad because it helped get grant money for the purchase in 1981.

Council members say they didn’t find out the rail line was being sold until the county and the railroad announced they reached a deal. Though the borough is slated to get a quarter of the sale price, Markovich says it should have been involved with negotiation. Council members showed their support last week, voting to have the Slusser Law Group of Hazleton review the agreement.

“If they say there’s nothing we can do about this, we take our money and go. If they tell us something else should be done here, we were entitled to something different, then we’ll proceed,” Markovich said.

The sale of the rail line was unanimously approved in May by the four-member Carbon County Railroad commission.

Its members are the three county commissioners and a fourth member, Rick Forgay II.

The commissioners appointed Forgay II to replace his father, who served on the commission from 1981-2019. Forgay Sr. was Lansford Borough secretary when the borough got the grant to help the county buy the railroad.

Markovich said he believes that the fourth railroad commission member should represent the borough, because of the role the town played in acquiring the railroad.

“If Lansford didn’t come forward in 1981, there would be no railroad in Jim Thorpe today,” he said.

Forgay II said that the fourth commission member has always been appointed by the county, not Lansford Borough Council, and there was no obligation to inform Lansford Borough of the sale. In addition, he said, the county and the railroad agreed to keep negotiations private until both sides were ready to announce the sale.

“I would have been out of bounds. I would have reneged on the agreement had I went to anybody during the negotiating period, as would (the railroad), the commissioners or anybody,” Forgay said.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said he was surprised that Lansford didn’t know about the sale, because it was well-known in the public that RBMN wanted to purchase the railroad line. For years RBMN has used the track for its freight rail and passenger excursions.

Nothstein says that Lansford must accept the sale terms, because they have never had an ownership stake in the railroad. The borough received money from the commission, he said, but never assumed the risks of ownership.

“They have never had to deal with all the issues we have had to deal with, with the railroad,” he said.