Cobb County reaches settlement
with Norfolk Southern railway
The Cobb County Board of Commissioners today approved in principle a settlement in the long-standing dispute with Norfolk Southern Railway over a proposed intermodal facility in Austell.
Commissioner Woody Thompson, whose district includes the location of the proposed facility, said that the proposed settlement contains three essential features.
First, all parties agree that they will drop all pending lawsuits, although they reserve the right to file future actions if the other elements of the settlement do not work out as planned.
Second, the railroad agrees to implement a number of measures to control air pollution, noise, visual pollution, and other impacts. The most important aspect of this component of the settlement, said Thompson, is that the railroad agrees to operate at 'Phase One' levels for at least three years.
"At the end of that period," he explained, "we all get together, evaluate the effects of the operation, and discuss what additional corrective measures, if any, are appropriate.
If there are significant harms to the community, and the railroad does not address those, then we'll take whatever legal actions are appropriate to protect our quality of life."
The third component of the settlement is that the railroad will pay for a number of community improvements to address many of the concerns that have been identified over the past few years. The total value of the land and cash contributions is in excess of $15 million.
For example, the railroad will fund improvements to Lewis Road, including a grade separation, that will ease traffic problems in the City of Powder Springs.
The railroad will also fund improvements to the Clarkdale Historic District that are designed to enhance the historic nature of the area and the effects that might otherwise be associated with such a large industrial operation located so close to a residential neighborhood.
Other elements of this aspect of the settlement include the donation of land for parks, recreation, and green space, and cooperative efforts to improve traffic flow near the facility and on C.H. James Parkway. The remaining amounts of money contributed by the railroad will defray the County's potential
future costs in dealing with the facility and help pay the costs that the County incurred in opposing the operation over the past two years.
"We believe the settlement is a step in the right direction," said Thompson, "and validates what we've been saying all along."
"Obviously, a facility of this size has the potential to be very harmful to the community," he continued, "and we've concluded that the best way to deal with those problems right now, given the legal history of this dispute, is to implement as many corrective measures as possible, watch the railroad's operations carefully, and then see what happens."
Bill Byrne, Chairman of the Cobb County Commission, agreed. "The railroad's agreement to make substantial changes to its facility, along with implementing measures to eliminate the harmful effects of the operation, show that our concerns were legitimate."
The proposed intermodal facility would be located on more than 800 acres of land in the City of Austell. At peak capacity, it would handle up to 3500 truck trips per day, operating twenty-four hours per day, 365 days per year.
The 'Phase One' operations, however, those at which the railroad agrees to operate for three years, will be much smaller, only 40% of those levels.
"In many ways, this aspect of the agreement is the most important," said Thompson.
"We've never said that the railroad cannot put any facility on the property, only that the scale and magnitude of the operation was out of proportion to the residential nature of the surrounding area. The railroad has said that they can operate and in a way that will address our concerns. The agreement to operate at a low level for three years gives us a period of time to see who's right."
David Gatch, President of the Clarkdale Homeowners Association, which was a party to the suit along with Cobb County, also said he was pleased with the settlement. "The railroad has agreed to fund a number of improvements to the Clarkdale community, and we think those go a long way towards avoiding the worst harms of this operation."
He added, "Of course, we'd have been happier if the railroad had decided to put its operation in a different area, but at least they're doing a lot more now than they originally proposed."
"We owe a lot to Chairman Byrne, Commissioner Thompson and Cobb County," he said. "Without them, we never would have gotten this far."
"We'll be watching them very closely," said Byrne, "and we're willing to do whatever it takes to protect our community. One way or another, we'll hold them to the same standards as every other business in Cobb County."
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