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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Council members concerned about NS construction

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Front Royal, Va., Councilman N. Shae Parker verbally blasted representatives of Norfolk Southern over the firm's proposal that will involve the use of explosives for a construction project, according to local newspapers. The railroad is offering to pay Front Royal $160,000 in exchange for vacation of a portion of Depot Avenue and the acquisition of a temporary construction easement on a 100-foot wide strip of town property.

Norfolk Southern also is proposing to pay approximately $90,000 to adjust all town utilities as part of its expansion project in return for the vacation of three streets that exist just on paper: Belmont, Edgemont and Scranton avenues extended.

"What else are you going to bring to this community, because in my opinion, this isn't enough," Parker asked during a work session.

Lloyd R. Clingenpeel, senior manager for Norfolk Southern, who works out of the Roanoke office, said that the railroad expansion that will run parallel to Depot Avenue would help take tractor-trailers off the roads.

"So we feel that our proposal is in the best interests of the community," Clingenpeel said.

However, as the proposal now stands, Parker said he wasn't comfortable "with going back to my constituents" and telling them that he was going to vote for it.

Parker said among his "grave concerns" are safety issues, such as doubling the speed of the trains in the area to 30 mph.

"The train's gonna be whipping around the corner and [the kids] might not see it," Parker said.

Parker, along with Councilman Thomas E. Conkey, voiced concern over the impact that blasting will have on nearby residents, in particular those who live on East 19th Street.

Robert L. Zehringer, safety director for Faulconer Construction Inc. of Charlottesville, the contractor for the railroad expansion project, assured the council members that every precaution would be taken to avoid any damage to adjacent homes during the blasting process.

Doug Wickham, railroad operations manager for Faulconer, said that prior to the blasting, the town should tell area residents to stay clear.

"Please tell 'em that blasting is not a spectator sport," Wickham said.

Steven M. Burke, director of environmental services for Front Royal and the town's engineer, said that town staff feels comfortable with Norfolk Southern's proposal.

Town Manager J. Michael Graham said there were some tough negotiations with the railroad, but that both sides feel that the proposed agreement, which includes some other concessions by Norfolk Southern, is fair. The process for the vacation of the streets will require a public hearing and council approval.