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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

‘Controversy’ may jeopardize saving Boones Mill depot
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Courtesy Art: Ann Howell Taylor of Maryland painted this scene of the Boones Mill Train Station from a photo she took when a steam locomotive made a trip by earlier this summer. Limited edition prints of the painting will be available during Saturday’s Mountain Spirits Festival in Rocky Mount.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

Boones Mill Town Manager Lynn Frith says the town is "100 percent" behind a move to save the old depot, but the project "has turned into controversy."

Norfolk Southern Corporation, which owns the former Boones Mill Station, earlier this year offered to donate the structure on the condition that it be moved to another location, Frith said. The railroad company wants to either have the depot moved or demolished because of liability issues.

That started the ball rolling as the town wanted to raise money and have the deteriorating structure moved and restored.

The reason for the controversy, he said, is the creation of a preservation group that has excluded the town from involvement.

"The town has been supportive of it (saving the old depot) from the very beginning," he said. "Back in March, we appointed Lois Slotnick as the executive director to oversee funding and other efforts through the town."

But Frith said that after a couple of months, Slotnick started her own separate group.

"She went her own way and didn't inform the town of her efforts," he said. "She was supposed to be working for us since we didn't have time to devote to it."

Slotnick said that was not the case, that she has been working on this project since November 2011 and never had any intention of being "under the umbrella of the town."

"That's where it gets fuzzy," she said,explaining that she has been working with Norfolk Southern and the Roanoke Historical Preservation Society from the beginning with the intention of forming a 501-C charitable organization.

"I made a presentation in March to town council and told them this (about forming a corporation) and organizing an advisory committee," she said. "I told them we have to formalize an organization and get 501-C status."

Slotnick said the town did give her a title at the time as "executive director" of the project, but she still had intended to pursue the corporation and never considered herself working on behalf of the town.

"I was simply asking them for support," she said. "I received an email from Lynn Frith congratulating me on being executive director. That's as far as it went as far as it being any kind of formal anything. They gave me a title with support of the town. I proceeded to do what I told them I was doing.

Slotnick said she reported all of her activities to Frith, who was her contact.

"He understood all of this and how a corporation is formed," she said. "He didn't explain what was happening to town council. In retrospect, I should have addressed the town council."

But that was not the understanding that he or the town had, Frith said, adding that the town was under the impression that she was its representative until he received a letter from Slotnick in July saying she was forming a corporation (Boones Mill Norfolk and Western Depot Restoration, Inc.).

"She went out on her own," he said.

Another issue then arose over money for the project collected by the town.

Frith said the town, which can collect tax-deductible money for projects, included requests for funds to save the depot in monthly water bills to residents, and about $400 was collected early in the summer.

In July, the town received a letter from Norfolk Southern saying the company would donate $6,000 to depot relocation efforts, he said, provided the town could "demonstrate that adequate funding is available" for the relocation.

But a Sept. 30 deadline was given by Norfolk Southern, and Frith said at that point the project did not have enough financial support to proceed. In August, the $400 was returned to the donors.

In a letter to those donors dated Aug. 29, Frith said: "The Town of Boones Mill supported the preservation of the railroad depot and viewed it as a vital part of the history of the Boones Mill community. However, without financial support, the relocation and preservation of the depot cannot occur. We are returning the donation you had previously given to the town for the depot preservation fund. The town will continue in our efforts to find grant funding or other sources in order to save the depot."

Slotnick said she didn't understand why the money could not have been given to the preservation group, and the letter was also sent to Norfolk Southern, which then pursued the demolition option.

That prompted her to speak to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors last week, requesting their support of the group's project.

Slotnick told the board last week that a permit has been filed for the depot's demolition, and the group is still trying to work out an agreement with Norfolk Southern that would save the structure and keep it where it is now located.

"We are working very hard to achieve that goal," she said, adding that the group wants to keep the depot at its current site and restore it. To move the depot, which is what NS has requested, would cost $140,000, she said.

"Please help us keep the depot where it is," she said.

Slotnick asked each member of the board to call Charles Moorman, chairman and CEO of the Norfolk Southern Corporation, and ask that the depot be saved and left where it is.

The group already has raised $12,000, she said, including the $6,000 from NS and other pledges and cash donations, and if the depot is donated by NS, "in three years, we will have a completed project" at a cost of about $250,000.

The money collected for the project ($5,000 in cash) is in an account through the Roanoke Historical Preservation Society, she said.

That project includes renovating the 107-year-old structure and creating a museum for the railroad and for the town.

Slotnick said that the letter sent by Frith put the group on the fast track in pleading its case to Norfolk Southern.

"He sent that letter out (to Norfolk Southern and some preservation organizations) and I don't know why," she said.

Since the board meeting, Slotnick said she has learned that the $140,000 price tag for moving the building may not be that much since a moving company has told her they can move the structure to a temporary location until a permanent site is prepared.

Frith said the town had offered a tract of land for the depot in an area near the old North American plant, which the town purchased and plans to develop.

"They (the preservation group) voted that they didn't want a lot," he said.

During a meeting of the preservation group Monday night that Frith attended, he said he tried to explain the situation from the town's perspective but "they (group members) were just bashing the town."

"What we're thinking about doing is contacting Norfolk Southern and put the ball back in our court again," he said. "We are not connected to her (Slotnick) whatsoever."

But Slotnick said the town will not be able to raise the money needed.

"There is a major public relations problem between council and town residents," she said, adding that she had trouble raising money and recruiting volunteers with town involvement.

"I told them it (the project) will not be controlled by the town, and once that was understood, volunteers came forth," she said. "The town council has a terrible image in Boones Mill and the community does not want to give them a penny."

Slotnick said she has sent a letter to Moorman explaining the group's efforts but has not yet received a reply.

"We have done this with good intentions and efforts," she added. "I've done all that I could."

Slotnick said she doesn't care who gets credit for it, but "we have to save the depot."

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