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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NS soothes pangs over new Alabama Hub

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Railroad and economic development officials are laying tracks to school leaders in hopes of addressing concerns at McAdory Elementary School that threaten to derail a $112 million Norfolk Southern intermodal hub, the Birmingham News reports.


Parents and school officials have made worries over air quality, noise, traffic and safety -- especially as they relate to the school -- polarizing issues for the McCalla community.


Norfolk Southern wants to build a facility to transfer shipping containers between trucks and trains on a 316-acre site adjacent to the school property.


The Jefferson County Board of Education voiced concerns at its meeting last month.


In an Aug. 5 letter, Gary Booth, Norfolk Southern's head of intermodal service development, addressed those issues to Superintendent Phil Hammonds.


The four-page letter pointed out that truck traffic from the hub will feed onto McAshan Drive two miles away from the school with no traffic going directly from the facility to Eastern Valley Road where the school is located.


Other issues addressed in the letter include:

• Buffers: "A new fence will completely enclose the facility and the retention pond to prevent children from straying onto the premises," Booth wrote in the letter. "Further, there will be a 15-foot high berm on the perimeter of the property with additional vegetation on the berm to further secure the facility, provide a noise barrier and visually separate the school environment from the facility. A second fence will be added next to the school property outside of the berm to further secure the facility."


• Air pollution from trucks and equipment: "Norfolk Southern understands the community's interest in emissions and we are performing an air quality study of the impact which is not yet completed. While we do not expect that the study will show an air quality impact problem, we have already made adjustments to address this issue." The company said it is installing equipment to reduce emissions to the more stringent Tier 4 Environmental Protection Agency engine criteria, which lowers emissions from the current standards.


• Environmental impact of the facility: "Many of the environmental studies are under way, but not yet complete. Although, we do not anticipate we will encounter emissions impacts, I have already described one step that we are taking that will minimize emissions. Further, the facility will be served by an extensive engineered drainage system that will channel all rainwater runoff to a retention pond. In addition, the engineered drainage system and retention pond will control the facility rain runoff to match or slow the rate of drainage that exists on the site today."


The letter also outlines the multi-faceted criteria Norfolk Southern uses in trying to select a site for intermodal facilities. The company looked for three years in the Birmingham area before settling on the McCalla site, which is the only one that met all of its criteria.


The McCalla hub, which will be named the Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility, or BRIMF, will create around 8,600 direct and indirect jobs over the next 10 years as it draws distribution centers and light manufacturing operations to the area, economic developers predict. Economic developers are hailing the project as a major boon for the whole state.


Hammonds said focused dialogue at this juncture is beneficial.

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