Mayor William D. Euille (D), who said Norfolk Southern failed to notify officials of its plans, said the City Council would go further and soon pass a resolution opposing the expansion. He said he would consult with the city’s lawyers, its congressional delegation and state officials as well.
“Obviously this creates a concern for both the environmental and safety factors,” Euille said of the proposal. “The way we found out was totally unacceptable; [Norfolk Southern] didn’t come in and talk to the city about their plans to expand. . . . We’ve had concerns about the air quality from the beginning.”
City officials said they learned of Norfolk Southern’s plans late Friday, when the state Environmental Quality Department notified local officials that the railroad had asked in January for an air permit that would allow ethanol from 30 rail cars to be moved into tanker trucks, instead of from the existing 14 rail cars.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin C. Chapman said that no decisions have been made about increasing the volume of ethanol and that the railroad is simply exploring its options.
“Norfolk Southern has considered the possibility of expanding the ethanol transfer facility in Alexandria should market conditions warrant but has not decided at this time to implement any such plans,” Chapman said in a statement. “Recognizing that a state air quality permit would be required to proceed with an expansion, the company wants to be able to act quickly to future market conditions and chose to apply to the DEQ for a permit ahead of the need. Appropriate safety measures would be designed into such a facility, but a design does not now exist.”
The rail yard, at 1000 S. Van Dorn St., has been there for generations, but it was only five years ago that the railroad began moving ethanol from trains to trucks there.
At the time, residents of nearby Cameron Station strongly protested the operation and the city’s failure to notify them of the plans. Mindy Lyle, a neighborhood resident since 2000, said she is “so beyond furious” at the expansion request.
“Norfolk Southern knows from previous experience how we felt about this from day one,” she said.
It’s not just the ethanol transfers that anger residents, she said, but the 2 a.m. noise of train movements, pollution and the unwillingness of the railroad to talk to its neighbors in an area that is rapidly redeveloping. “The rail yard has been there for a long time, but this use was not there,” she said. Trains from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus used to park in the area, and circus employees would live there while performing in the Washington area. But once ethanol operations came in, the circus left, she said.