Trump supporters await Biden visit in EP | News, Sports, Jobs

Residents from East Palestine and the surrounding areas who say they are still suffering in the wake of last year’s Norfolk Southern train derailment, held a protest in front of the village municipal building on Friday while awaiting President Joe Biden’s arrival in the village. (Photo by Stephanie Elverd)

EAST PALESTINE — As East Palestine awaited President Joe Biden’s visit, pro-Trump supporters from across the country lined North Market Street with the message “too little, too late.”

The Trump Rally, which was organized by Mike Young and began at 7:30 a.m., took over downtown. Signs expressed disapproval with the Biden’s Administration over what protestors viewed as a poor response to last year’s Norfolk Southern train derailment. Many viewed Biden’s visit as political.

Village manager Chad Edwards said the protestors and the president are both welcome in East Palestine.

“I welcome the people outside and the president,” Edwards said as he sat at the lunch counter at Sprinklez On Top. “I think today is great for two reasons. First of all, it brings much-needed business to the village. Secondly, this is a free country and people have the right to exercise their First Amendment right. That’s what we see outside. We see people free to express their opinions and people who are hopefully going to shop and eat while they are here.”

Biden was expected to be in town around 4 p.m. and meet with Mayor Trent Conaway and a few business owners. The presidential visit comes over a year after the rail disaster. Biden was criticized heavily for not making a trip to the village sooner while making time to visit the sites of other disasters — like the Maui fires, Hurricane Idalia and the Mississippi tornadoes. In the weeks following the derailment and chemical release, Biden told reporters that he would visit East Palestine “at some point,” but that trip took over a year. While some questioned the president’s motive in showing up so far removed from the derailment, Edwards said the village is happy for any additional help Biden’s visit to the village may mean for East Palestine as the town makes strides in its recovery.

“I know some people think it’s too little too late, but we are certainly appreciative of any support we receive from the president,” Edwards said. “Some people are angry that he didn’t come sooner and I understand that. The derailment has been tough on people here, but we are focused on recovery and moving past the derailment.”

Edwards also doesn’t believe the village has been ignored by the federal government.

“The president hasn’t been here, but his administration has,” Edwards said. “Again, I understand people are angry that he took so long to visit but there was a federal response.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the derailment site in February just weeks after the derailment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan has made several trips to East Palestine, starting on Feb. 16, and has visited residents in their homes.

What Biden hasn’t done is declare East Palestine and the surrounding areas a disaster, a request that’s been sitting on his desk for six months now. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requested the disaster declaration on Aug. 3 on the sixth-month anniversary of the derailment.

Across the street from the pro-Trump rally, a different set of protestors stood — people who say they are still dealing with the impacts 12 months after the derailment. Those participants included River Valley Organizing and the Unity Council for East Palestine Train Derailment – a grassroots community group of area residents advocating for themselves. Their signs didn’t tell Biden to “go home.” Instead, they begged for environmental and health monitoring, long-term health care and a disaster declaration as they gathered in front of the village municipal building.

Edwards expressed empathy for those who say they are suffering in the wake of the derailment, but said he wasn’t sure a presidential declaration of disaster is needed. He also said he wasn’t sure if it was needed.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if it’s warranted or not,” Edwards said. “But I think it’s something that needs to be looked into more. I can’t say either way. I would like to know more about it and gather more information.”

Despite the polarized atmosphere the Trump rally and Biden’s visit sent up and down North Market Street, Edwards said it has little to do with the real narrative.

“This isn’t a political story. East Palestine is a recovery story,” he said. “It’s become a political talking point, but East Palestine is so much more than that.”

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