Norfolk Southern kills its plans for Chattahoochee Brick
This story has been updated with a statement from Atlanta City Councilman Dustin Hillis (see below).
By Maria Saporta
In a major reversal, Norfolk Southern has terminated its plans to build a rail transfer facility on the site of the former Chattahoochee Brick Co. in northwest Atlanta.
“We accepted from the beginning that we had a special responsibility to develop this site in a socially and environmentally responsible way, given the atrocities that once took place there,” said James A. Squires, chairman, president and CEO, in a statement. “We believe our project presented an opportunity to create a long-overdue memorial to the painful legacy of the site, and at the same time reshape its future by building new river trails and putting the long-abandoned land back into productive use in a way that benefits the regional economy.”
Norfolk Southern made the decision after the City of Atlanta filed a petition last week for preliminary injunction with the federal Surface Transportation Board. Norfolk Southern recently moved its corporate headquarters from Norfolk, Va. to Atlanta, and it is building a tower in Midtown.
Although the company said it did not believe the city’s action had legal merit, Norfolk Southern release said it listened to the community and was not interested in protracted litigation if the city opposes the project.
“We pride ourselves on being a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate,” Squires said. “In this case, that means walking away from the project despite our very best efforts to work with the community on the responsible development of the site.”
Throughout 2020, Norfolk Southern said it worked closely with local elected officials, held multiple meetings to listen to the concerns of community stakeholders, and incorporated that feedback into plans for the site. Community members, however, disagreed and said they felt Norfolk Southern could have done a better job incorporating their feedback and addressing their concerns.
Norfolk Southern said it had offered to work with community representatives to design and build a memorial, at the company’s expense, to ensure the history of the site is never forgotten. The company also expressed support – and conducted site tours with stakeholders – for creating public-access trails on the site along the Chattahoochee River and Proctor Creek, as many environmental and community groups advocated.
In addition to complying with rigorous environmental standards for site redevelopment, Norfolk Southern was working with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, through its voluntary Georgia Brownfields Program, to perform extensive environmental remediation of the property.
The company also engaged outside experts to perform an archaeological and historical survey, as well as archaeological excavation in certain areas. No evidence was found of a cemetery on the site, but given the site’s tragic legacy, the company committed to exercise great care as development continued.
The company will complete the necessary work to stabilize and secure the site before withdrawing from the site.
Atlanta City Council Member Dustin Hillis Releases Statement on Norfolk Southern’s Chattahoochee Brick Site Announcement
ATLANTA — District 9 Council member Dustin Hillis released the following statement after Norfolk Southern’s announcement on the termination of development plans at the historic Chattahoochee Brick site:
“After many months of engagement with Norfolk Southern, the City’s law and planning departments, and many neighbors and interest groups, to say I am delighted would be an understatement. I am very appreciative of Norfolk Southern’s decision today to abandon its plans at the historic Chattahoochee Brick site along the Chattahoochee River and Proctor Creek.
This would not have come to fruition without the advocacy and immense pressure applied by the people in the many neighborhoods in District 9, as well as racial justice, environmental, and history advocates throughout our great city. I also want to thank City Attorney Nina Hickson and Jonathan Futrell for their extensive work on to this matter, as well as my colleagues on City Council and other elected officials representing the area around Chattahoochee Brick who signed on to my letter last fall to Norfolk Southern and Lincoln Energy Solutions CEOs Jim Squires and Larry Burgamy, respectively.
While this is a great victory for the city, our work is not done, and we cannot rest until this important piece of land is in the city’s possession. On that front, I will continue to have conversations with my Council colleagues and the administration about the best way to ensure that happens expeditiously.”