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Owen Sound, Ont., railway plan stalled for now

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Any prospect of bringing rail service back to Owen Sound, Ont., is still getting back on track well down the line, the Owen Sound Sun Times reports. While a north-south line linking Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario "remains the company's vision," progress by the Highland Companies toward that goal has been sidelined by processes sometimes beyond its control, Michael Daniher, the company's spokesman, said in an interview.

Highland reached an
agreement to buy the Orangeville to Brampton railroad from the town of
Orangeville two years ago but "the transaction hasn’t closed,"
Daniher said. "The due diligence process is continuing."

Meanwhile, its interest
in acquiring the former CP Rail corridor in Dufferin County which, in turn,
could be linked to the former CP rail corridor that ends in Owen Sound and is
owned by Grey County, got put on hold by a court case that pitted Dufferin
County against Orangeville on a question of conflict of interest.

Warren Maycock,
Orangeville’s deputy-mayor and a member of Dufferin County council, said that
the county received a legal opinion that the town shouldn’t participate in any
decisions about the rail corridor because of conflict of interest.

If Orangeville sells its
rail line and the county allows Highland to lay rails and use the county-owned
CP corridor, then Orangeville gets another $2 million from Highland, Maycock
said. However, $750,000 of that would be owed to the county for the purchase 10
years ago of the Orangeville-Brampton line, he added.

The matter was decided in
favor of the county when it first went to court. A subsequent appeal was heard
in December and a ruling overturning the original decision came down about six
weeks ago.

While the litigation was
going on, discussions at the county over the rail corridor "were
dormant," Maycock said. However, Dufferin’s general government services
committee, which Maycock now chairs, received an appraisal of the value of the
corridor. The committee will take the report to the next county council
meeting, scheduled for June 10.

"That, as a property
matter, will be subject of closed discussions," Linda Dean, the chief
administrative officer, said. Asked if there were municipalities in the county
opposed to a return of rail service, Dean said: "We haven’t had a vote on
it yet so I wouldn’t know that."

The Highland Companies —
"the operating and investment vehicle for a group of private investors
based in Canada and the United States" according to the firm’s website —
also owns 7,500 acres of land in Melancthon Township. It is hoping to get a
license to extract aggregate from some 2,400 acres within that holding, Daniher
said. The quarry operation, extracting high-quality Amabel dolostone, would a
have a life measured in "decades," he said.

"Some of our critics
have suggested that by stopping the restoration of the rail corridor, they
could stop the application for a quarry. Well, that is not the case . . . While
it would be economically and environmentally attractive to incorporate the rail
option as part of the transportation mix . . . the plans for an application for
a quarry would proceed regardless of what happens on the rail front,"
Daniher said.

Despite the
interconnected web of interests, "each of its (Highland’s) businesses
stands on its own merits and no one activity depends on another," Daniher
said.

Meanwhile, Orangeville
has extended its agreement with Highland for the purchase of the town-owned
rail line for another two years, Maycock said.

And while he would like to
see the return of the rail service from Streetsville to Owen Sound
"there’s lots of time and lots of items that need to be resolved before
anything happens" to get as far as Melancthon Township on the edge of Grey
County, Maycock said.

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