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Knoxville residents rail against proposed Norfolk Southern terminal

(The following story by Jim Matheny appeared on the 10 News website on May 27, 2009.)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. 10 News has obtained Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce documents that outline a $133 million private-public partnership with Norfolk Southern to build an intermodal rail-and-truck transport facility.

The plans have taken many residents by surprise as conceptual drawings show the terminal built on their property.

The "Jefferson County Intermodal and Logistic Project Review" document is dated March 17, 2009, and includes an evaluation of the regional impacts of a truck-rail intermodal facility. The evaluation was conducted by the University of Tennessee's Center for Transportation Research.

A conceptual drawing by Norfolk Southern places the facility along Highway 11 near New Market where rail lines already exist. The 1,000 acre terminal would allow commercial trucks and locomotives to transfer cargo along Norfolk Southern's proposed "Crescent Corridor."

The conceptual drawing places the site on at least 30 acres of Harvey Young's cattle farm. Young said he does not oppose the concept of an intermodal transport terminal, but believes it should not come at the expense of green space and active farmland.

"There are already vacated industrial sites along the rail line in Jefferson County that could be used instead of taking farmland," said Young. "These intermodal deals are supposed to benefit the environment, so it makes no sense to sacrifice green space to build an industrial site beside other vacant brown spaces."

Young said when he first heard rumors of the project he assumed it would be at a dormant Magnavox industrial site in Jefferson County or the Knoxville John Sevier Yards. Then he saw the conceptual drawing that placed the site on his land near Highway 11.

"It's that empty feeling people must have felt when TVA and others took their land to build the dams," said Young. "It was a depressing thing to think they want to take something I have been working 10 years to build up and that I enjoy doing when I think I'm starting to accomplish something."

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told 10 News the corridor project allows cargo such as food, electronics, and other consumer products to be shipped long distances via rail and short distances via truck. The railway plans to construct several intermodal terminals along a route that begins in New Jersey, continues through east Tennessee, and eventually ends in Memphis. However, the spokesperson said no firm plans for a site in Jefferson County have been finalized.

Norfolk Southern hopes to complete the corridor within the next 10 years and says it could remove one million transfer trucks from the highways. The evaluation by UT said the terminal would open in 2014 and could create almost 15,000 jobs in the region by the year 2025.

Young said a developer with ProVenture in Nashville has contacted his neighbors about buying land for the project.

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the involvement of developers, saying the company has a standard practice of maintaining confidentiality with all real estate dealings.

Young said he has no plans to sell and only imminent domain can force him to give up a chunk of his farm and dreams.

"Some folks will sell their land because they are afraid of condemnation or being undercut." Young added, "The way they are going to get this [my] land is they are going to have to condemn it."

Young said no officials with the county's industrial board, chamber of commerce, or other entities have made the plans public or sought input from land owners to date.

"It is just typical local politics with somebody trying to push a plan through the backdoor," said Young. "You're talking about a project that takes over 450 acres of farm land and some of these farms have been in the same family for more than 150 years. There has to be a better location with less risk of environmental damage."

10 News made several attempts to reach Don Cason, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, on Friday and Tuesday. As of this writing, our phone calls have not been returned. Messages left with the Jefferson County mayor have also not been returned as of yet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

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