Opposition to new NS intermodal yard in New Market, TN

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Mon Jun 22 08:36:05 EDT 2009

Intermodal rail yard opposition organizing
New Market residents want farmland saved
BY BETH ANN WALKER walkerb at knoxnews.com
Sunday, June 21, 2009

NEW MARKET - Norfolk Southern isn't interested in buying any of Debbie Berry's 20 acres.

Her property - which has been in her family for 70 years - lies at the very end of the proposed site of an intermodal rail yard.

But if it's built, she fears 100-foot-tall floodlights and the thundering of freight cargo will replace her peaceful nights in rural Jefferson County.

She told her story Saturday morning to more than 100 people gathered at New Market Elementary School to continue organizing opposition to the proposed Norfolk Southern rail yard, where freight would be exchanged between trucks and trains.

Among those in attendance was state Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who said that while he isn't against the facility, he is against destroying good land when there are other options.

"Don't sign anything, and don't give up," he advised residents.

The proposed site would cover several hundred acres of currently agricultural land. "We aren't against intermodal transport. What we are against is taking working farmland and just destroying it," Harvey Young said.

Young was one of 10 residents who spoke before the County Commission about the issue last Monday. Saturday's meeting attempted to further inform residents and encourage them to fight to have the project moved to a different location.

Norfolk Southern has said the facility would mean removing as many as 1.2 million truckloads of freight annually from the highway, helping traffic and air quality, but Jefferson County residents say the benefits in no way outweigh the ruin of usable farmland.

The railroad also has said it looked at sites from Knoxville to Greene County and that New Market offered the best location based on factors including the flatness of the land and interstate access.

Holly Young Williams, Young's daughter, said proper site selection is key and pointed to existing industrial sites and abandoned brownfields. "They need to reuse what's already been destroyed," she said.

More than 75 percent of Jefferson County's farmland has been converted into other uses in the past two decades, according to The National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The proposed development will consume almost 5 percent of the county's remaining usable land.

Opponents say residents without farmland have a stake, too, citing stormwater runoff, air pollution and destruction of historic graveyards among other objections.

The rail yard also would be next to New Market Elementary School and upwind from a hospital, nursing home and two other schools.

"We would never consider building our school next to their rail yard. What gives them the right to build their rail yard next to our school?" resident Alex Miller asked, to applause.

Opponents are writing letters to Norfolk Southern executives and government officials and, instead of passing petitions, are distributing cards that allow people to make comments in addition to signing their names. The cards will be posted on the Web and given to the mayor.

Beth Ann Walker may be reached at 865-342-6336,
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