Rail expansion project roils residents in Johnston County

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The CSX rail project has many Johnston County residents reeling (WTVD)

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners will hold a hastily-called special meeting Wednesday night, ostensibly to discuss a so-far secret plan to build a rail yard between Micro and Selma.

There is no agenda for the meeting, and the public notice only mentions "location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area." But sources say CSX's proposed rail connector and the massive rail yard project will be the focus of the meeting.

Chairman Tony Braswell told ABC11 that commissioners will immediately go into closed session. After which, they "may make a motion to take action on." Braswell said he's committed to an open and transparent process.

So far, though, Braswell appears to be nearly as in the dark as just about everyone else in the small community just off I-95.

He says he and other commissioners first got wind of the project on Dec. 7 with no details provided. They got an update on Jan. 4, but Braswell says they didn't know where CSX intended to build the rail transfer station until late last week.

In fact, sources tell ABC11 that one of the only people who knew about the project was Chris Johnson with the Johnston County Economic Development Office. He reportedly signed a non-disclosure agreement with CSX.

A call to Johnson went unreturned.

From CSX's website, the rail company is building "a new intermodal terminal in Eastern Johnston County called the Carolina Connector, or CCX."

What's an intermodal terminal? You can see for yourself here.

According to the company's website, "CCX will connect eastern North Carolina direct to CSX's extensive rail network. Containers will arrive on freight trains from all over the country. These containers will either be sorted and transferred to trucks or other trains and taken to specific markets."

The intermodal terminal is believed to need 450 acres, although CSX has not yet provided a map of the project. According to the company, economic benefits include the creation of up to 1,500 jobs across the state and $20 million saved in highway maintenance costs. CSX's marketing information isn't clear about how long it would take to see those benefits.

If you want to learn more about CSX's proposed project, click here.

But for many who live near the site where the project would be built, the economic shot-in-the-arm isn't welcome in their backyard.

"We're in a beautiful location," said Jenny Edwards, who is among the homeowners who stand to lose their land. "This is our piece of heaven. This is our paradise. The CSX representative asked me, 'Is there nowhere else you'd like to move to?' I said, 'I'm here. I'm in my paradise. I don't want to be anywhere else. I retired from the Johnston county schools after 30 years to come home. I will have no home to be at. I have nowhere to go.'"

Trent Lassiter owns The Farm, a concert and event venue that would also be bought and re-developed to accommodate the rail yard. Lassiter says last Thursday, he was the first door the CSX representative knocked on.

Read more: Selma man fights to save family farm from railway giant

"They made us believe we had no choice," Lassiter said. "So we didn't say we're going to start a Facebook page, we're going to fight, because we thought we had zero chance in you-know-where of doing that. If they'd have come in and said look, we've got this project that's very important to the company, this is a prime area, are you willing to sell your land, we'll compensate you, are you interested? We would have said no a long time ago."

Lassiter started the Facebook page and social media outreach "Fight for the Farm." So far, nearly 7,000 people have "liked" the page, weighing in from all over the country.

Parts of what Lassiter said bothers him are claims by CSX that it's working with the community. The company's video describing the project says "throughout this process, we will meet with the local community, listen to your feedback, address concerns and communicate project updates." The announcer goes on to say "working together, we'll help create a better tomorrow for Johnston County and the Tarheel State."

"If you call 'working with the community' showing up at peoples' doorsteps unannounced, coming in and saying they're going to buy the land and if we don't agree on a price, the law will -- if you call that working with the community, then yes, they've talked to us," said Lassiter.

But what Lassiter said make him just as angry is how long CSX has apparently been eyeing his property.

"The worst thing I think that was said, besides the fact he said, 'I'm going to buy your land,' is the fact that he sat here and told me that he rode by and watched me build this building. He said he came by in 2013, which was almost three years ago, saw this building in the construction process and said, 'I hope that's not going to be a real big building.' They were looking at this land then, two and a half, three years ago."

January 20, 2016

    CSX has learned that the Johnston County Board of Commissioners is having a closed meeting today to address concerns about the proposed Carolina Connector (CCX) intermodal terminal. CSX urges the Commissioners to continue an open dialogue about this economic development opportunity. The project is in day seven of a multi-year process. And, there is much room for continued discussions, refinement and feedback.

    We encourage the Commissioners to meet with us and to not walk away from jobs for the people of Selma, Micro and Johnston County - including 300 short term construction jobs and 300 more permanent jobs with annual CSX salaries averaging more than $60,000 - as well as critical infrastructure that will expand the reach of existing NC businesses to national and global markets.

    Our company wants to listen, and we believe that by working with the Commissioners and concerned citizens, we can reach a mutually beneficial accommodation - one that reflects Johnston County's values and creates economic opportunities. Regrettably, we have not been afforded the opportunity to meet since the announcement. Many inaccuracies are being reported and we would appreciate the opportunity to discuss them. We continue to be confident that we can address landowner and community concerns through an open dialogue, much like we've done at our Northwest Ohio terminal and other developments across our network.

    Just one week has transpired since landowners and the public were informed about this project. During that time we've heard from project supporters and concerned citizens. We welcome these conversations and the constructive feedback that will follow. We urge Commissioners to honor the process and allow themselves, the community, and other stakeholders the opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue about how we can build this terminal in a way that ultimately benefits the County.

    CSX continues to believe that there is a way to deliver the state, regional and local economic benefits of this critical infrastructure project in a way that respects the interests, addresses the questions and acknowledges the passionate voices of landowners and area residents.

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