Chicago Tribune: Pollution concerns delay Englewood rail yard expansion

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Pollution concerns delay Englewood rail yard expansion

By Antonio Olivo, Chicago Tribune Reporter

A group of Englewood residents along with environmental organizations persuaded a City Council committee on Thursday to delay a hearing on a $285 million railroad expansion plan that would bring thousands of additional diesel trucks into the South Side neighborhood.

After the group held a City Hall news conference pushing for more pollution controls from the Norfolk Southern project, the Housing and Real Estate Development Committee agreed to hold off for a month a hearing that was scheduled for next week, according to Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, who sits on the committee and whose ward includes an area that would be affected by the project.

That gives the Englewood group more time to try to persuade Norfolk Southern to agree to make concessions on the neighborhood’s concerns about trucks spewing diesel fumes in an area already inundated with diesel and lead pollution, said Faith Bugel, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is assisting the residents.

Norfolk Southern has been buying and demolishing homes just south of Garfield Boulevard to make room for an 84-acre freight yard that the company hopes to begin operating in 2015.

The project would extend an existing 140-acre rail yard north of that site that handles about 480,000 intermodal containers per year but has not been able to keep up with increasing demands for freight cargo, officials with Norfolk Southern say.

The Virginia-based company said the 10-year expansion project, which will be built in phases, will create roughly 400 jobs, with a regional economic impact of $1.6 billion by 2030.

As part of a proposed agreement introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, Norfolk Southern would pay $1.1 million for 105 vacant city-owned lots in the area bound by Garfield Boulevard and 60th Street to the north and south and by Stewart Avenue and Wallace Street to the east and west.

Norfolk Southern also would contribute $3 million to an infrastructure fund that would support local economic development initiatives, including the potential for light industrial businesses near the rail yard, city officials said. The company also has agreed to use lift equipment in the yard that meets federal recommendations for diesel emissions.

The Englewood residents and environmental groups said lead and diesel pollution in the area has led to a higher rate of severe asthma among children than elsewhere in the city. They want guarantees from Norfolk Southern that diesel trucks entering the yard be fitted with effective emission controls.

The group also wants Norfolk Southern to help create more green space in the neighborhood and to contribute to a fund for any damages to homes created by vibrations emanating from the freight yard.

The Rev. Harriette Cross, pastor of Englewood United Methodist Church, said the environmental effects of the project should concern the whole city. “The effects of poor air don’t just stop at the boundaries of Englewood,” she said.

Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company plans to meet with environmental groups soon.

“After that meeting, we will be able to say what actions we can take to address their concerns,” Chapman said.

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