Off the Tracks 

A proposed rail yard could threaten the Wolf River and Memphis' drinking water.

For years, the Wolf River Conservancy has tried to secure easements on the land surrounding the Wolf River for a future 30-mile greenway along the river's edge.

But Norfolk Southern rail company could throw a major wrench in the river's ecological health if it builds a proposed 1,000-acre transportation facility on a site in rural Fayette County, less than a mile from the Wolf River and the William B. Clark Natural Area. The facility would serve as a place for trains and big rigs to drop off and pick up cargo containers.

The site, one of several Norfolk Southern is considering, is located just east of Rossville, sandwiched between Highway 57 and the Wolf River.

"It's the area where the Memphis Sands are within a couple feet from the surface," said Wolf River Conservancy member Steve Fleegal. "It's right next to the river and the wetlands of the river."

The Memphis Sands aquifer provides the area with drinking water, often touted as some of the cleanest in the country.

"If they had a toxic chemical spill that seeped into the ground, it could contaminate the drinking water, poison the Wolf River, and have a drastic effect on the ecological system," said Jack Herb with the South Fayette Alliance, a group formed to protest Norfolk Southern's selection of this site.

Even Rossville mayor James Gaither is opposed to the rail yard's site selection, mostly due to the monumental increase in truck traffic that would be coming through his town.

"Highway 57 is a two-lane highway," Gaither said. "This is not a good thing for a residential community. I don't see how they can get away with it."

Norfolk Southern is predicting the site would draw about 2,000 trucks a day, or about 200 trucks per hour during a 10-hour day.

Norfolk Southern spokesperson Susan Terpay said the rail company is considering other locations.

"We're still evaluating sites, and we're looking at some other sites in the Rossville area," Terpay said.

Those opposed to the project have suggested a few alternate sites, among them Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park in Memphis and Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park in Fayette County.

"We're not in a position to pick a site for them," Herb said. "We're just protecting our community by encouraging them to go to an existing industrial park or a rural area with good access to four-lane highways."


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