Property owners in New Market opposed to Norfolk Southern's plan to build a transportation transfer point, where trailer trucks will gather to be loaded and unloaded off trains, have hired the attorney that led the fight that stopped a proposed "megasite" on the other side of the county.
Knoxville attorney Scott Hurley told the group in a meeting last week that it is time to stop fighting the railroad—the railroad is going to do what the railroad is going to do. They are buying farmland and clearing the site.
Hurley said the group's effort should parallel the victory over the megasite—focus on the Jefferson County Commission and educating taxpayers about the estimated $23 million in county funds that will be needed to close roads (and the tunnels that take them under the railroad tracks) and replace them with another road for access. That's the amount of infrastructure the county would have to provide in order to make the site work, according to a University of Tennessee study. He believes that if the county makes it clear they will not pay for the changes, the railroad will drop the project.
County government will have to be convinced that the costs of roads, bridges, and utilities outweigh the benefits. The county has been asked to get a site plan and timeline from Norfolk Southern to see who will be affected by road closures and get a precise figure on the cost to the county.
The site sits between Andrew Johnson Highway and the entrance to a peninsula of farms and homes on the Holston River. Access to the peninsula is through a series of tunnels under the Norfolk Southern tracks.
Hurley told the group a big part of the effort will be to dispel some myths about the project.
When the "intermodal" was announced it was in conjunction with a proposed industrial park and hundreds of jobs were touted. What has not received much notice is that the proposed industrial park has gone away and only the contract workers operating the intermodal will have jobs. A similar sized facility in Virginia has 15 employees.
Another myth is that the project doesn't affect people in other parts of the county. But hundreds of trailer trucks driving the 12 miles from the interstate every day and millions of taxpayer dollars make the project of concern from Chestnut Hill to White Pine to Jefferson City.
The Save Our Farms and Homes group that defeated the megasite proposal is still organized and active and will help with the effort, Hurley said.
County leaders, as is their wont, seek progress, jobs, and a better tax base. I feel their pain. I'm all about progress and jobs and a better economy. I think most of the people in SOFAH and Jefferson County Tomorrow feel the same way. Most of us are conservative Republicans, after all.
But big industrial projects usually get a tax abatement. The economic value to county government is jobs and paychecks. As a practical matter, and as a matter of economics, it matters little if the jobs are in Knoxville or Morristown.
The proposed megasite and the cost involved for the return was just a dumb idea. Having a daily trailer-truck convention on New Market farmland a dozen miles from the interstate is also a dumb idea. Doing it for 15 jobs is just stupid. No matter its convenience for the railroad, it is a major inconvenience to truck drivers and to county residents.
Jefferson County is a bedroom community for Knoxville and Morristown. It has lakefront homes on Douglas and Cherokee, farms, and small businesses. The quality of life can't be beat anywhere. Ask the snow birds who live on the lake in Dandridge.
And if the time comes that the trucks do roll into New Market and the outcry requires a new four-lane road from the interstate to handle the traffic, the rest of the area's taxpayers will also pay a price. Norfolk Southern won't be paying for it, you will.