Mayfield Residents Seek Solution For Rail Cars
Worries linger in community despite recent improvements on the part of CSX and Transflo to reduce amount of time ethanol tanks are parked near residential neighborhood.
Mayfield residents in Fredericksburg said they recently noticed something out of the ordinary in their neighborhood: There were a lot less of the large, black rail cars that CSX stores near their homes.
Some of those rail cars are filled with hazardous liquids, and have been for 18 months the source of controversy in the predominately black neighborhood off of Route 2.
Although the good news added to Mayfield's annual Christmas parade this past weekend, residents are still skeptical that their battle with railroad owner CSX, and its ethanol-transfer company, Transflo, is over.
Lawrence and Janice Davies, of Cardwell Street in Mayfield, said they hope the neighborhood's grassroots campaign against CSX and Transflo is finally paying off.
"They aren't leaving [rail cars] there so much these days," Mr. Davies said. "They move a lot more rapidly and stay there a lot less. But I don't know that we will ever get complete satisfaction."
The controversy started a few months after the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors in August 2009 narrowly approved Transflo's special-use permit for an ethanol-transfer terminal at the Bowman Center.
A month earlier, the Planning Commission cited numerous safety concerns before it voted 6-0 to recommend that supervisors deny the permit.
Transflo's ethanol terminal is in Spotsylvania County, just a little more than a football field outside the city boundary. There was little communication between the Board of Supervisors and Fredericksburg City Council before the permit was approved. The terminal is one of 56 the company has servicing the East Coast.
That fall of 2009, Mayfield residents began noticing a lot more rail cars being stored on CSX property near their homes—some just 100 feet away. When the residents learned what some of those rail cars were holding, they created a campaign to get CSX to move them away from Mayfield. The campaign has grown from just a few residents to more than 100 supporters and the backing of groups such as the local NAACP chapter, and the Spotsylvania Republican and Democratic committees.
Spotsylvania code enforcement officials cited Transflo in March for violating the special-use permit condition that no more than 10 rail cars can be stored on the property at one time. Mayfield residents said they've seen double the amount of allowed rail cars in Transflo's storage area.
Residents on several occasions have asked county supervisors to revoke the permit or make Transflo move the rail cars to a more secluded area.
"There might be a plan in place to move the rail cars out of Mayfield," said Kevin Simowitz, of Virginia-Organizing, a group helping Mayfield residents' campaign against Transflo and CSX.
CSX has a separate business in the city that is allowed to store propane and chlorine in a rail yard near Mayfield homes. Mayfield residents have obtained experts who have said that if a spill or explosion were to occur with chlorine, damage could reach 15 square miles. Simowitz said CSX had agreed to move the rail cars with chlorine out of the yard within 24 hours.
CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said he didn't know of any plans to move the ethanol rail cars to a more secluded area or change the schedule of the chlorine deliveries.
"Transflo and CSX remain sensitive to the concerns of the community and continue to discuss multiple options with Spotsylvania County and, as always, remain focused on operating safely," Sullivan said.
Simowitz and Mayfield residents have asked county officials for stronger enforcement of the special-use permit conditions. When Transflo was cited for the violation in March, it installed two 500-gallon-per-minute pumps that help speed up the transfer process.
Transflo has not been cited since then. County Administrator Doug Barnes said Transflo is averaging 9.4 rail cars on its property each day.
Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania) said he is trying to find a solution for Mayfield residents, but he has been frustrated so far.
"I've been running into roadblocks at every step that I take on this Mayfield-Transflo issue," he said. "The potential impact on the community seems horrific to me. If I was living in proximity to the rail yard, I would be nervous."
CSX's Regional Vice President for State Government Affairs Quintin C. Kendall wrote Houck in September that he would have Transflo officials review operations to find ways to move rail cars out of the yard quicker.
"For materials such as these, rail is the safest and most-efficient mode of transportation because of the large volume capacity of rail cars and a strong rail safety record," Kendall wrote.
Houck has tried to get numerous state agencies involved, only to find out that they don't have any authority. The Department of Environmental Quality told Houck that it has some authority with hazardous waste, but not hazardous materials. The fact that the land and tracks are private property also complicates matters, Houck said.
"I am trying to find a way legislatively to help the people in proximity to this because they are very fearful," Houck said.
Hashmel Turner, of the Mayfield Civic Association, said he has seen less rail cars this recently, but the change could be because Mayfield had its annual Christmas party.
Although he said he hopes that the campaign has finally got CSX to take more action, he isn't that optimistic because there was an abundance of rail cars a week ago.
"They had them double stacked over there," he said.