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Norfolk Southern kills its plans for Chattahoochee Brick

Norfolk Southern A photo of a Norfolk Southern train with the Atlanta skyline in the background. The photo was part of Norfolk Southern’s 2015 calendar

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

A photo of a Norfolk Southern train that was included in the railroad’s 2016 calendar (Norfolk Southern)

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.

Tom Bell Jim Squires

Norfolk Southern holds annual meeting in Atlanta on May 9, 2019. Left to right: Atlanta’s Tom Bell, a director of the railroad since 2010, stands with Jim Squires, the CEO of Norfolk Southern since 2015. Squires has been a director since 2014 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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.

Derrick Boazman, a former City Councilman, on Feb. 9 urges the Mayor and City Council to try to stop Norfolk Southern from building a rail transfer facility on the site of the Chattahoochee Brick Co. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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.”

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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3 Comments

  1. Vincent Fort February 18, 2021 12:36 pm

    City Hall and Norfolk Southern acted only after the community along with Derrick Boazman. myself, Rev Tim McDonald and Joe Beasley helped organize oppositionReport

    Reply
    1. Yvonne Durham February 18, 2021 7:29 pm

      Thanks for still standing up for the Black Community!!Report

      Reply
    2. Cherita Jones February 20, 2021 10:27 am

      Mr. Fort, what is your team planning to memorialize this site?Report

      Reply

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