Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NS hub to have berms near school

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Preliminary designs of Norfolk Southern's $112-million Alabama cargo-loading rail hub call for 15-foot berms next to McAdory Elementary School and a 16-foot sound wall along the access road behind the Sadler Ridge subdivision, the Birmingham News reports. The design will be shown at a public meeting Norfolk Southern is holding at the Bessemer Civic Center. Some residents of the area and parent of students at the school are vehemently opposed to the project.

The detailed plans -- which railroad officials said are subject to revision -- show that the 316-acre facility will be developed in two phases. The first phase calls for two loading tracks and three storage tracks and as many as 1,154 trailer and container parking spaces. The second will add one loading track and one storage track, plus 336 trailer and container parking spaces.

That would give the Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility, as it's called, a total of three loading tracks, four storage tracks and up to 1,490 trailer and container parking spaces. The design calls for six crane-ways where the 47-foot cranes will travel to load containers from truck trailers onto the trains, or vice versa.

More 15-foot landscaped berms are planned on the north end of the property near Sadler Ridge and other homes.

The design also shows the distances the hub will be from various locations:

• The northeastern corner of the McAdory Elementary School cafeteria will be 488 feet from the nearest concrete pad where the containers will be stored, including a 15-foot landscaped berm in between. The same corner of the school is more than one mile from the entrance to the facility off McAshan Drive.

• At its closest point to Eastern Valley Road the hub is 1,013 feet behind an existing ridge that will get landscaping.

• The entrance road is within 340 feet of a barn on the back side of one of the homes in Sadler Ridge. The road is 553 feet from the home on that same property.

The plans also call for an administration building, a maintenance building and a pair of buildings for mechanical and transportation uses. There is an employee parking lot with 166 spaces, the design shows. Entrances and exits will be monitored by security cameras.

It's difficult to tell what the new details will mean to most residents of the growing McCalla community.

Many residents continue to be concerned about the effect diesel emissions will have on the school, and most opponents remain unconvinced that the landscaped berm will do enough to block out noise. Declining property values, increased traffic on McAshan Drive and an overall decline in quality of life are other issues raised by those who oppose the project.

The railroad company has purchased or has options to purchase the property for the project. Because the project falls under federal statutes, it doesn't have to obtain local zoning changes. It must, however, get environmental and other permits to build the hub.

Rudy Husband, Norfolk Southern spokesman, said adjustments already have been made to the facility's design and more could follow after feedback from the public.

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