Four Oaks is next stop in debate about CSX rail hub

FOUR OAKS (WTVD) -- It feels like Round 2 of the fight that played out in Selma during the winter.

Property owners successfully fought off the massive CSX project that threatened to take their properties. Now, the battle is moving to Four Oaks, where the mayor wants the railroad company to build its container hub right along the CSX line that runs through this small Johnston County town.

It will be an uphill climb to convince many Four Oaks homeowners.

"Me and my wife own 45 acres here," said Randy Johnson as he walked through his sprawling ranch where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

The Johnsons, who raise cows for beef, have no interest in selling the property to CSX so the company can build its so-called Carolina Connector -- a $272 million mega-transportation hub to offload containers from freight trains onto big rigs.

"We've not had one community meeting about this project," Johnson said. "The community should've been involved from the start."

Johnson invited over a small group of what he says is part of a much larger contingent of community members strongly opposed to the project, many of whom received letters from Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker, asking homeowners to put in writing if they were interested in selling their property and how much they would accept for it.

Mayor Parker is exploring the use of eminent domain to seize the 450 acres it would take to build the CSX hub. Eminent domain is the forced forfeiture of land for a fair price.

Matt Sharpe bought his dream home here and fears the project would turn Four Oaks into a "black hole."

"It's 450 acres is the proposed size of this site. Four Oaks is 704 acres. That's roughly 64 percent of the size of this town," Sharpe said.

For Jack Austin, the long-time Four Oaks pharmacist, there's concerns about the impact on air quality.

"I've dispensed medicine to a lot of folks in this area, and I know the diseases they have," Austin said. "Nitric oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulate matter that comes out of diesel engines ... we'll all be breathing that stuff in."

Parker argues the hub could be the center of a desperately needed new economy in Four Oaks. The sales pitch is not going over well at Johnson's farm.

Parker declined ABC11's request for an on-camera interview, citing scheduling conflicts. But, he stressed nothing is official. He says he not spoken to CSX and is not certain the company has interest in Four Oaks.

The mayor is inviting residents to Monday night's Town Council meeting to express their feelings. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Four Oaks Town Hall.

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