Thursday, October 9, 2008

LETTER: F&M kept TRRAAC in the dark

In my files is an Intelligencer Journal news story dated Feb. 20, 2007, that documents how suburban homeowners were denied the information they requested concerning the relocation of the Norfolk Southern railyard to a tract of land adjacent to their neighborhood.

This story states that at an initial meeting with Keith Orris, F&M official, on Feb. 19, 2007, East Hempfield Township residents expressed concerns over the proposed "land swap" which would move a railroad switching yard to a new location near their homes.

At this meeting, Farmingdale Road resident Kathy Ashworth suggested to Orris that Norfolk Southern officials talk to East Hempfield residents before they draw up their designs, because, she said, "Once it's designed, it's pretty much a done deal".

A Wicklawn Drive resident, Dan Gillis, said Norfolk Southern has a “reputation” for not being sensitive to consumers. Citing a "huge trust issue," he said that the residents wanted to talk to the railroad before the design phase. "They should come here before their plans are done and listen to us", he was quoted as saying.

Keith Orris, F&M’s vice president for external affairs, responded to this request, according to the story, by saying that "Design and engineering will take place through the beginning of 2008 before the plan will be brought to government officials and the public".

The newly- formed Railroad Action Committee (later called TRRAAC) had expected to be given details of the F&M plan by mid-March, but when it was not forthcoming, went ahead with its planned meeting on Mar. 25, 2008 at Grace Baptist Church on Marietta Ave. Introduced at this meeting was Gary Brown, an environmental engineer, who spoke in generalities about potential environmental problems, but said that he could not make any recommendations until F&M held a meeting and puts their railroad relocation plan "on the table". This meeting was held on the F&M campus on June 18, 2008.

The TRRAAC group was kept largely in the dark about the environmental studies that had been done and the design of the proposed railyard until the June 18 meeting. This caused them to lose valuable time in which they could have been conducting their own research on the project.

This explains why the TRRAAC organization was caught "unprepared, out maneuvered, and unrepresented by counsel at the June 18th meeting," as reported in an editorial published today (Oct. 8) on NewsLanc. This was not due to a lack of activity on the part of TRRAAC. Rather, it was due to the deliberate withholding of information by F&M.