The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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August 26, 2013

Railroad won’t budge on bridge

Ceci: Span lures kids to deadly swimming hole

SHENANGO VALLEY — Twelve-year-old Mark Goodrich Jr. was just being a normal kid trying to have a good time when he drowned last summer at a swimming hole in the Shenango River on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Mark was one of several kids who were swimming near a rusting railroad bridge adjacent to the former Sharon Steel property along the river that day, July 13.

It’s an area that’s inaccessible to most anyone but kids enjoying a bit of mischievousness summer “fun” that can prove dangerous and even deadly because of the depth of water there and the current of the river.

“It’s a summertime hangout for kids. When I was 10 years old I’d have been down there too,” Farrell City Manager Michael Ceci said recently.

Ceci, a boyhood friend of Goodrich’s father, Mark Goodrich Sr. of Sharon, has tried to do what he can to get the railroad bridge, which had been idle for 50 years, torn down, which he thinks would remove some of the attraction that bend in the river has for Shenango Valley youth.

“This bothers me,” Ceci said recently when he decided to go public with his efforts to get the bridge removed after it appears they’ve fallen on the deaf ears of railroad officials who own the bridge.

The bridge is owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad. It used to connect to tracks on the other side of the Shenango River at the extreme eastern edge of the former Sharon Steel Corp. property that stretches from the east edge of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Ohio.

The property is now owned by NLMK Pennsylvania, but the bridges remained the property of the railroad. It hasn’t been used for 50 years, Ceci said officials at the mill told him.

Ceci’s written to state officials on both sides of the border, along with Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17th District, Youngstown, and they’ve been sympathetic to his plight, he said.

But the railroad has been less-than-willing to take action.

Chris Cupples, who works as an aide for Ryan, was able to  talk with a railroad official, who told him the railroad was interested in keeping the bridge in place because it “could be of value in the future.”

Ceci questioned the railroad’s reasoning.

“It’s like having $5 locked away in a safe you can’t get to,” Ceci said of the bridge, which has been a literal “bridge to nowhere” for decades.

“It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to save this sock with a hole in it because one day I’m going to sew it,’ ” Ceci said.

The railroad contends police should patrol the area to discourage trespassers, but the area is remote and can only be reached by taking a hike down a hill and through brush to the banks of the river.

“It’s passing the buck. They’re above worrying about this,” Ceci said. “This bothers me.”

The railroad is planning to put up fencing to restrict access, but that isn’t enough in Ceci’s book.

“For them to say that the bridge can be reused some day is a joke,” Ceci said. “Let’s get rid of this thing. Let’s think about the kids.”

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