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VOL. 125 | NO. 23 | Thursday, February 04, 2010

Norfolk Woes?

Citizens grouse anew over railroad site

By Eric Smith

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A coal train backs up at the Norfolk Southern train yard south of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium along Southern Avenue. Photo: Lance Murphey

Norfolk Southern Corp. hasn’t laid down any of the track that will connect its main line to the proposed $112 million intermodal terminal in Rossville, but the company is laying down a foundation to keep the project on target to open in two years.

The Norfolk, Va.-based railroad, whose Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility will be built on 570 acres in rural Fayette County, is developing the terminal to bolster the company’s Crescent Corridor. It’s a 2,500-mile rail network extending from Memphis and New Orleans in the Southeast to Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the Northeast.

The railroad has lined up a host of public and private entities in support of the $2.5 billion project, which will create a massive supply chain in the eastern U.S. with Memphis as one of the key gateways.

For example, Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor recently received an endorsement from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), a trade organization of retailers, manufacturers and suppliers.

Katherine Lugar, RILA’s executive vice president of public affairs, wrote the following to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood:

“This project will provide a new intermodal corridor with the ultimate potential to remove over 1 million trucks a year from our already strained national interstate highway system in the South and Northeast,” she wrote. “Most importantly, these improvements can be completed within an 18-month timeframe.”

Rubber to the road

The railroad also received a political spark when 60 U.S. legislators endorsed the Crescent Corridor concept, including U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis.

But it’s not all good news for Norfolk Southern, whose intermodal revenues fell 15 percent in the fourth quarter, and fell 26 percent for the year.

Still, Norfolk Southern is committed to the project because the railroad is landlocked at its current intermodal facility, Forrest Yard near the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and expects massive growth in intermodal movements as the economy improves.

The Rossville yard, slated for property that insurance mogul William Adair sold to the railroad for an undisclosed amount, will be able to accommodate more than 327,000 containers and trailers annually, and up to 2,177 parked containers and trailers on chasses.

“I just hate to see that area change and have such big eyesores and noise pollution and light pollution.”

– Dana Lackey, Fayette County resident

Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said in an e-mail that the railroad is on schedule for building the intermodal yard, which should be completed by January 2012. Currently, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and other state agencies are reviewing draft environmental assessments.

TDOT in March will unveil details on the environmental studies and give residents an opportunity to comment about the project.

Also, in April the agency will hold a public hearing to give concerned citizens a chance to discuss the project in a public forum. After that, the final environmental assessment will be issued and, if everything is approved, construction will begin in June.

But based on the public meeting in October, when plenty of opponents stated their disdain for this project, and some comments from Fayette County residents – both on and off the record – a fight could be brewing.

Trouble in paradise

One of those residents, Dana Lackey, said a groundswell of resistance has formed to fight the railroad, but she knows it’s an uphill battle when the project is being paraded by the company as a “green” project and when politicians are looking for any kind of economic development in their communities.

Lackey, like many people in the area, is worried the intermodal yard will do more harm than good for Fayette County.

“My perspective is that this is going to benefit a publicly traded corporation

and it’s not going to be a lot of good for the citizens around here,” she said. “Particularly, it’s not going to bring in too many inside jobs.”

Lackey is leery of the railroad’s claims that the facility eventually will employ up to 1,000 people, directly and indirectly. She and other residents also are concerned with the taxpayers’ burden to build the yard.

The railroad is planning to fund $31 million of the project’s $112 million price tag, and the state has requested $81.2 million in federal stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Program.

As for the green claim, residents are wondering how green it can be when trees are being felled, ponds are being drained and roads are being built over the area’s rolling hills in preparation for hundreds – and later thousands – of trucks each day.

They worry that their sleepy rural community will turn into another Lamar Avenue and Shelby Drive, the area of Memphis where warehouses have sprouted near the BNSF Railway Co. intermodal facility.

“I just hate to see that area change and have such big eyesores and noise pollution and light pollution,” Lackey said.

The people’s politics

This isn’t the first opposition to Norfolk Southern in the area. Residents last year formed the South Fayette Alliance to fight the railroad’s initial site plan along Tenn. 57 between Rossville and Moscow.

When enough peopled voiced their concern over that locale, Norfolk Southern struck a deal with Adair to build the facility on his property.

The new site will send all of the yard’s truck traffic onto an access road that connects with U.S. 72, rather than Tenn. 57, and it also is farther away from the Wolf River, alleviating many citizens’ concerns about truck traffic and potential water contamination in the community.

But as more and more Fayette County residents catch wind of how close the sprawling facility will be built to local estates, horse farms and streams, they have begun their protests anew.

It might be too little too late for opponents, who still harbor hopes of the railroad building the yard at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park on Presidents Island in Memphis. But Norfolk Southern has long since ruled out that site and remains committed to the Adair property, one of six sites the company said it considered for the intermodal terminal.

Another public meeting to disclose the results of environmental assessment will be held in Fayette County, but a date has not been set, TDOT officials said.

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