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Environmentalists dispute report on Johnson County IM terminal

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Environmental pressures are mounting on BNSF's proposed freight center in Johnson County, Kan., with experts saying it would contribute to the region's already serious air pollution problems, according to The Kansas City Star. Air-quality experts at the Mid-America Regional Council are suggesting that diesel emissions from the massive rail project near Gardner would worsen ozone levels, which already violate federal standards.

MARC
is challenging an initial federal conclusion that the only serious pollution
issue from the freight hub would be dust kicked up from vehicles using the
site. MARC officials say diesel emissions from the rail yard would increase the
level of fine particles of pollution. Smaller pollution particles are
considered more hazardous because they can enter the body easier and cause
respiratory problems.

The
air-quality issues were contained in public comments submitted to the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, which is deciding whether to give the sprawling 418-acre
rail hub the environmental clearances the project needs to proceed. MARC is
among several groups that have expressed concern about the environmental
effects of the project.

BNSF
has said that a preliminary environmental report done by the Corps shows that
ozone-threatening emissions related to the rail yard would decrease
substantially in the hub’s first two decades of operation. The railroad
contends the project won’t result in "significant changes to ozone-causing
emissions in the greater Kansas City area."

BNSF
has said it was taking steps to reduce pollution. The railroad has said that
locomotives and trucks won’t idle as much at the proposed Gardner site and that
it plans to use cranes powered by electricity, not diesel fuel.

But
in a letter sent to the corps last month, the MARC experts said increased truck
and locomotive traffic would contribute more hazardous pollutants downwind of
the greater Kansas City region. The experts noted that diesel exhaust includes
fine particles that can aggravate asthma, cause irregular heartbeats and
possibly lead to early death to people suffering from heart or lung disease.

The
BNSF project "is introducing that kind of pollution to an area that doesn’t
have that kind of pollution other than from the interstate," said Amanda Graor,
a senior air quality planner at MARC.

The
BNSF rail yard has come under fire from area residents and environmentalists
nationwide. Last month, a few hundred residents turned out to hear a panel of
national environmentalists talk about the project’s health risks. The forum
came weeks after the Corps of Engineers issued a report saying that the rail
yard would have some moderate to significant adverse effects on air quality,
traffic and streams, but the railroad has plans to reduce any impact. The
report found that a person had a better chance of contracting cancer in a
typical lifetime than from pollution from the rail yard.

Environmentalists
fought back in the public comment period, which ended Aug. 16. They said
federal regulators underestimated the number of trucks that would use the hub
and the hub’s level of pollution. They said that the corps didn’t fully assess
the cancer risk and that the corps’ predictions of diesel emissions were much
less than what has been generated at rail projects elsewhere.

MARC,
meanwhile, has homed in on the region’s ozone problem, which could lead to
costly environmental controls that could stymie development, with the added
compliance costs eventually passed to consumers. The problem is exacerbated
because the federal government has lowered the bar for violating clean-air
standards.

"We
have a stricter standard now," said Cindy Kemper, the director of the Johnson
County Environmental Department.

Kemper
noted that the Gardner intermodal hub, combined with one at the former
Richards-Gebaur airport near Grandview, could become an ozone concern in the
short run. However, Kemper said there still was not enough information about
the Gardner project to determine health risks.

"Are
we concerned? We don’t know enough," she said. "I don’t think we can say for
sure whether the facility might pose a risk or not."

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