Thursday, November 11, 2010

McCalla residents get final chance to vent about Norfolk Southern's plans to build railroad hub (with video)

Published: Tuesday, November 09, 2010, 11:28 PM ??? Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 12:05 AM

McCalla residents and business owners still steamed at Northfolk Southern's plans to build a railroad hub in their community took advantage of their last public opportunity to vent at the company tonight.

"Why has Norfolk Southern lied to us?" asked Fred Swope, a resident of McCalla. "Why do you keep lying to these people?"

At a meeting, Swope accused the company of misinforming residents early on about the transporting of hazardous materials through the facility, which transfers shipping containers between rail cars and trucks.

He said Norfolk Southern has not told the truth about the noise that would come from the hub or the impact the 400 trucks per day going in and out of the facility would have on McAshan Drive.

Norfolk Southern officials said the company has never intentionally misled the public on any of the issues regarding the facility.

Tonight's meeting?was the third and final public hearing and was intended to present the findings of a year-long environmental assessment of the property and the potential impact of the hub.

The company's plans to build its $97.5 million Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility on 316 acres in the southwest Jefferson County community has been a hot-button issue since the public first heard about it more than 17 months ago.

But that time, two other public meetings, the creation of a Community Outreach Group and numerous changes Norfolk Southern has made to its plans have not eased the tempers nor erased the concerns, as tonight's meeting at Watermark Place's Discovery Alabama Event Center proved.

Promised protection

Norfolk Southern has pledged to build 35-foot, grass-covered berms topped by trees and shrubs between its facility and the adjacent McAdory Elementary School and other areas where the facility might be visible from Eastern Valley Road.

Walls and other screening are planned to buffer the noise from trucks traveling on a proposed entrance road to the facility that will run behind the Saddler Ridge subdivision to the west of the hub site. Holding tracks for the facility were shortened to not come near small streams and retaining ponds were put on site to collect water that will be used to irrigate the berms.

Though the shipping containers that will travel through the facility are not the tanker cars that carry hazardous gases, liquids and chemicals, some of the containers will contain household cleaners, automotive supplies, paints, solvents, alcohol, tobacco and other commercially sold items that meet the definition of "hazardous materials."

"Can you guarantee that there is nothing that will happen at this facility that will affect the health and welfare of my children?" asked Wade Cox, whose children attend McAdory Elementary.

After his question was met with silence by the panel of mostly technical experts, moderator Art Hanes, a retired circuit judge who declared himself to be "neutral" on the hub issue, said the answer would have to be "no" because no one could make such a guarantee.

"Then why would you risk it?" Cox asked, prompting applause from most of the 85 people in attendance.

Much of the ire from those who spoke was aimed at the city of Bessemer for the poor way it has maintained, or failed to maintain, its section of McAshan Drive.

Unlike the portion maintained by Jefferson County, which has been widened, improved and resurfaced to handle truck traffic from the Jefferson Metropolitan Park McCalla industrial park, the portion maintained by Bessemer in front of the Flying J truck stop off Exit 104 is two lanes and chock full of potholes, cracks and decaying pavement.

The third public meeting for Norfolk Southern's proposed intermodal facility in McCalla

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