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NS terminal presents risks to Memphis aquifer

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Long touted as a "green" project that will reduce pollution, Norfolk Southern's proposed truck-to-rail terminal in western Fayette County could pose a threat to the source of Memphis' drinking water, The Commercial Appeal reported.

In a recent position paper,
the Ground Water Institute at the University of Memphis called for an
"intensive study" of the potential impacts that the company’s $112-million
Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility could have on the Memphis Sand aquifer.
And after construction, an independent agency should extensively monitor both
the quantity and quality of aquifer water, the institute said.

The concerns reflect the
fact that the proposed site for the facility — between Tenn. 57 and U.S. 72 in
the Rossville area some five miles east of Collierville — lies squarely within
the broad "recharge" zone where rain water and surface runoff seep
directly into the aquifer, said Brian Waldron, associate director of the

He said chemical spills —
either large, single incidents or small, steady ones — pose perhaps the
greatest danger to the aquifer, which lies hundreds of feet below most of
Memphis but has surface outcroppings in East Shelby County and Fayette County.

"The threats to water
quantity probably are small," Waldron said. "The bigger threats are
to quality."

The Memphis Sand, widely
known for its purity, supplies about 150 million gallons of water daily to
Memphis and smaller amounts to surrounding municipalities.

Norfolk Southern spokeswoman
Susan Terpay said she could not comment on the institute’s statements until she
studies them. However, "we will address all the concerns" about the
project, Terpay said.

The institute’s comments
come as Norfolk Southern seeks a federal Clean Water Act permit for the
terminal, where overhead cranes will transfer containers between trucks and

Serving up to 327,000 truck
trailers and containers yearly, the facility will be part of a $2.5-billion
scheme of improvements across the Southeast that Norfolk Southern calls its
Crescent Corridor initiative. The terminal is slated to open in early 2012.

While announcing the
terminal project last summer, company CEO Wick Moorman emphasized the hundreds
of "green jobs" the facility would create by taking long-haul trucks
off the roads, saving an estimated 170 million gallons of fuel annually.

But the project has
environmental impacts beyond its potential harm to the aquifer.

Norfolk Southern needs the
Clean Water Act permit because the project would destroy 2.24 acres of wetlands
and alter nearly 4,000 feet of a stream. Other impacts include the paving of
233 acres and installation of railroad tracks on 76 acres, according to the
company’s permit application.

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