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FROM THE HERALD ARCHIVES: CSX Ga. center wins over skeptical neighbors

Sylvia Maggart holds a heart-shaped potato.
Sylvia Maggart holds a heart-shaped potato. Melissa

FAIRBURN, Ga. ( July 18, 2004) — Driving around the perimeter of a rail-truck shipping yard in south Fulton County, Ga., it's hard to discern the activity inside.

Sitting off a two-lane road, a landscaped entrance with a brick sign and decorative lampposts are the only clues that a CSX Intermodal terminal lies within. Much of the operation is surrounded by thick groves of trees.

CSX officials say the site is similar to one that could be built in York County, if it's approved by the County Council. Supporters of the project say it will boost economic development in the area. Opponents say it will increase truck traffic and pollution.

Opened in 1999, the Fulton County terminal is south of Atlanta, just outside the historic railroad town of Fairburn, population 6,300.

But the project caused an uproar when it was announced. Hundreds turned out to local government meetings about the terminal, citing fears of pollution, traffic congestion, road wear and tear, bright lights and noise, according to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Some opponents accused the richer, northern part of Fulton County of dumping an unwanted development on the less affluent southern part.

Today, most of the controversy has subsided, residents say.

Fairburn resident Nancy Whyte was among those who fought the project. She said she rarely hears complaints about the business these days, except for occasional gripes about more traffic. Some say the intermodal has added to the tractor-trailer traffic on U.S. 29, the main drag through the city, home to antique and gift shops, restaurants and other small businesses.

"We have seen an increase in trucks," said Whyte, 54, who works downtown running a bar review course for lawyers. Otherwise, she said, the CSX terminal hasn't been a problem."You cannot fight progress," she added.

"You would like for it to be controlled and sensible."

Others say CSX can't take the heat for heavier traffic."You can't blame the traffic on anything but the growth of the town," said Rick Hilley, 41, owner of Casablanca Cafe & Catering in downtown Fairburn. The rail yard is out of the way, he added. "They're hidden."

At least a dozen businesses are near the terminal, but some homes and an apartment complex are also in the area. Downtown Fairburn is a short drive away.

One neighbor, Sandra Hardy, says the buffer of trees around the site shields them from the noise. Hardy was a leading critic when the project was announced but now is a liaison between the community and the company.

"This place is not an eyesore," said Steve Longoria, superintendent of CSX's Atlanta terminals.The shipping yard takes up about 140 acres of the company's 500-acre tract near a multi-lane U.S. highway and Interstate 85. CSX plans to seek a rezoning that would let it expand, Longoria said.

Trucks travel down an extended driveway into the site, stopping at an inspection gate before entering the main yard. The terminal resembles a big parking lot, where shipping containers are stored in long rows and train cars line up on four loading tracks to pick up or drop off cargo. Massive cranes transfer containers between tractor-trailers and train cars.

Three trains a day enter the site bringing containers of goods that are put on trucks and transported to local businesses. The terminal serves a roughly 150-mile radius, Longoria said. Trucks also bring in containers to be shipped by rail to other places.

The business operates around the clock seven days a week, serving about 600 to 700 trucks a day. It employs more than 100.

Longoria said CSX has tried to be a good neighbor, offering tours of the operation to the public and trying to respond to resident concerns. The site undergoes safety inspections by federal regulators, he added.

Economic development officials credit the company for helping spur business growth in the area.

Most notably, the rail-truck terminal helped attract a large Lever Brothers distribution warehouse, said Bob Simmons, who directs the marketing arm of Fulton County's economic development department.

The company is a division of consumer products company Unilever, maker of everything from Lipton tea to Dove soap. Unilever is one of CSX's biggest intermodal customers.The warehouse represented an $ 80 million-plus investment and created more than 200 jobs, Simmons said.In the past year, there's been a spike in the number of businesses eyeing sites near CSX, Simmons said. "It would be a given that other industry interests that would require rail would be looking in that same area."