Environmental impact of future inland port cited as state plans review of freight network

By David Pendered

The environmental review is underway for a planned inland port to be built northeast of Gainesville. Presuming it opens, the facility that’s billed as a way to ease traffic congestion in metro Atlanta is likely to be heralded as a success as the state House prepares to update Georgia’s decade-old rail improvement plans.

chatsworth inland, appalachian regional port

The Georgia Ports Authority says each round-trip container moved through the inland port near Chatsworth will offset 710 truck miles on Georgia highways. Credit: GPA –  applachianregionalport.com

The planned inland port is expected to have significant environmental impact, according to a Dec. 27 letter to Hall County’s Development Authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Incidentally, the gainesvilletimes.com reported that Hall County sold the site to the Georgia Ports Authority on Dec. 12 for nearly $5.6 million.

The corps’ letter observes:

  • “Impacts to aquatic resources would result from site grading to accommodate buildings and associated infrastructure.”

To compensate for this damage, almost 27,000 stream credits are to be purchased from three mitigation banks that are in the primary service area of the planned inland port – the Rose Creek, Greensboro and Pritchett mitigation banks, according to the corps’ letter.

In addition, some amount of dredged or fill materials is expected to be dispensed into waters of the United States, according to the corps’ letter. The letter says the closest water body is the North Oconee River.

That said, the inland port appears to be within a quarter-mile of the upper reaches of Lake Lanier. The port site is a few miles north of the Ga. 284 bridge over the lake, on is located on the east side of the lake.

The project covers nearly 283 acres and is located alongside Norfolk Southern’s main line. It’s to provide:

  • 12 acres to store containers that are being shuttled between trucks and railroad cars;
  • 5 miles of circulatory roadway;
  • 5 miles of yard and storage tracks;
  • A small administrative building and one secure checkpoint to truck entrance/exit.

According to the corps’ letter, impact studies completed last year revealed:

gainesville inland port, locator map

The planned inland port near Gainesville is to be built on nearly 283 acres northeast of Gainesville, located between the Norfolk Southern main tracks and U.S. 23. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  • No cultural resources were located on site and no items listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, or potential items, were found within 2,000 feet of the project location;
  • Habitats for two species of bats exist on the site, but the Indiana bat and Northern Long Eared Bat and won’t be bothered if tree clearing is conducted outside the dates of May 16 through July 31, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Gainesville inland port is to be the third such facility to open as part of the long-range expansion program of the Georgia Ports Authority. The authority intends to extend the reach of Georgia’s ports across the Midwest, and inland ports are a way to reduce the truck traffic that could bottleneck at the ports and their primary access roads – I-16 and I-95.

Such facilities are likely to be considered by the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics. House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) announced last week he would create the commission to evaluate the state’s freight logistics system. The commission’s work evidently will update Georgia’s Statewide Freight and Logistics Plan 2010-2050, which was released following recommendations from the Freight and Logistics Task Force, convened in 2008 by then Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Of note, the freight report showed the Norfolk Southern line near Gainesville to be already at capacity and forecast to carry ever more traffic.

Inland ports are places where trucks and trains can meet to shuttle big containers filled with goods from a train to a truck. The idea is to shift cargo betweens trains and trucks at locations close to where it was created or is to be consumed.

This practice reduces the reliance on trucks to transport goods between inland locations and the state ports in Savannah and Brunswick. The long-distance hauls can be shifted from highways to rail.

 

Construction of the planned inland port near Gainesville requires the use of nearly 27,000 stream credits to mitigation environmental damage, according to a report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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