OUR VIEW | This Land Is Whose Land?


As most probably remember, a mass intercity communication vacuum resulted in Norfolk Southern Corporations potentially dangerous move into a populous West End site last year, leaving the city vulnerable to a possibly lethal disaster. The federal courts recent decision to disallow the city from stopping ethanol-hauling trucks from moving through Alexandria was a terrible outcome. Despite the citys desperate legal effort to right the wrongs of last year, the court ruled for Norfolk Southern and against the safety of Alexandrians.

This process of fighting Norfolk Southern has highlighted a sector of the city that is often overlooked: Its industrial underbelly. An industrial presence is inevitable and necessary in society. It keeps commerce on track literally, in Norfolk Southerns case. And Norfolk Southern is hardly the only industry to cause controversy in Alexandria. The Mirant power plant, Virginia Paving and the ethanol transfer station also are not ideally located within the city. Their presence in dense residential areas (though residential developments sprang up around the industrial areas in most cases) has led to numerous clashes with nearby citizens. These residents bear the brunt of dangers from the nearby industries, be they health hazards from chemical pollutants, noise pollution or general discomfort with the idea of industrial materials being so close to their abodes.

These worries are relevant. But so is the reality that industrial-use areas cannot be picked up and moved simply, which is why city agencies should forge positive interactions and promote symbiotic relationships with the industrial giants like Norfolk Southern hovering over the city.

No doubt city officials have dialogues with their corporate and industrial neighbors. Such dialogues have resulted in various community services donated by Mirant and Virginia Paving despite the citys stance against many of their policies, and in some cases, their very existence.

Elected city officials have called for the dismantling of Norfolk Southerns ethanol transfer station in the past and the court recently ruled that, in light of such statements, the city is seen as attempting to alter the corporations operation. The judgment must be seen as a message to the city and its residents that while it takes a tank to uproot a legitimate corporation, it takes diplomacy to mitigate the negative side effects it causes the community.

The activists and city officials bent on ousting these unwanted neighbors should certainly not give up their mission. But working positively with Norfolk Southern a neglected idea until the corporation set up shop and it was too late is the best option to protect the citizenry currently, especially because federal courts say the company has a right to operate as-is.

However, looking for ways to shut down unwanted industrial-use zones and mitigating their negative effects are not mutually exclusive. Take the Mirant power plant: Residents and city representatives last year achieved an agreement for the plant to spend $34 million on environmental safeguards. Yet the city still openly admits its desire to shut the plant down completely. Through dialogue, though not always cordial, the parties reached an agreement to lessen the plans negative effects.

The one thing that Norfolk Southerns ethanol transfer station and nearby residents share is their physical home. When and if the operation relocates, both sides should take pride in the fact that they collaborated to make the area as safe as possible, while recognizing one anothers right to exist.