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Morrell Park residents oppose planned CSX rail facility

Dozens of Morrell Park residents denounced plans to build a cargo transfer terminal in the neighborhood at a rowdy community meeting Wednesday night.

The $90 million facility, where CSX Transportation wants to stack cargo containers on trains, is expected to bring more than 300 tractor-trailers per day through area streets and an adjacent industrial park, and residents expressed a range of concerns, from lowered property values to noise, light and air pollution.

"If this comes in we might as well bulldoze the whole community," said Paul DeNoble, a neighborhood resident representing the Morrell Park Community Association.

DeNoble said he submitted dozens of questions about the project to CSX officials in May and got no answers. CSX officials said they had planned to answer questions after their presentation in conversations with residents in small groups, but that never occurred.

The presentation was disrupted, and officials were largely drowned out as residents stood up one after another to vent frustrations. About 150 people attended the meeting in Southwest Baltimore.

"My home in Morrell Park is my castle, and I'll be damned if I'll have CSX come in here and cause more traffic congestion and more noise pollution," said Loretta Otis of Casadel Avenue.

"When my daughter gets asthma and all these other people are getting health issues, is there going to be a health fund?" asked Heather Moyer of Grinnalds Avenue. "I don't want to live in a health sacrifice zone."

The plans do not have final approval from the city, but the facility has the backing of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Councilman Edward Reisinger, who represents the area, received a barrage of questions from angry constituents at the meeting. He said that "nothing is set in stone," but many residents said they believe the project is a done deal.

It has passed through preliminary planning stages, but still must pass through a permitting stage, officials said.

Reisinger said he would take the community's concerns directly to Rawlings-Blake. "I'm here to listen, because I have to go back to the mayor and say, 'Madam Mayor, there are a lot of problems.'"

Rail company officials said the project's budget — which includes $32.5 million from the state — will allow for significant roadway improvements to mitigate the impact of the increased traffic. They said the project will follow city codes governing noise, light and air pollution as well, and that they will continue listening to community concerns.

"We are moving into a community, we are becoming part of the community, so our management staff are going to be engaged with the community," said Richard Hisrich, CSX's director of terminal design.

The around-the-clock operation will use large cranes to double-stack cargo containers for more efficient distribution along the East Coast and west to a CSX distribution hub in Ohio. It will move current cargo operations from the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the port of Baltimore.

CSX can't currently double stack trains out of Seagirt because of height restrictions at the Howard Tunnel. Double-stacking trains increases the efficiency of moving cargo in and out of Baltimore, including the port.

The move will also free about 65 acres of land at the growing port for additional dock storage.

According to new design plans released at the meeting, the trucks serving the facility will exit Interstate 95 onto Caton Avenue, then travel west on Wilkens Avenue, south on Dukeland Street and west on Wilmarco Avenue before hitting Bernard Avenue and proceeding into the existing Mount Clare rail yard, which is being reused for the new facility, officials said.

Officials expect the facility to serve 310 trucks per day and as many as 34 per hour — or more than one every two minutes. About 95 percent of the traffic will occur between Monday and Friday, and 80 percent will occur between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., officials said.

Diesel cranes at Seagirt complete about 65,000 cargo lifts per year. At the new facility, cleaner and quieter electric cranes will complete about 85,000 cargo lifts per year, officials said.

About 50 permanent jobs will transfer from Seagirt to the new facility. It will create about 200 indirect permanent jobs, and create between 350 and 400 construction jobs during the two-year construction period, CSX officials estimated.

CSX hopes to break ground on the project during the first half of next year, and begin operations by the spring of 2015, to coincide with the opening of an expanded Panama Canal.

That expansion is expected to bring the largest ships ever built to the port of Baltimore for the first time, significantly increasing the potential cargo loads imported and exported out of the port each year.

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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