The first time around, the communication black hole existing internally within the city government and externally with the Norfolk Southern Corporation was an absurdity resulting in the companys operation of an ethanol transferring station within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, two residential neighborhoods and a Metro station.
An audit of the situation and an unprecedented act of transparency from the city revealed that both sides were at fault for multiple voids in conversation, but it was the citys own management that ultimately failed to communicate the companys intentions to its elected body and affected residents though NSC certainly did not earn distinction as a responsible corporate citizen.
Had there been proper, timely dialogue between the two parties and the citys residents, NSC would probably be transferring the highly flammable product from rail cars to tanker trunks anyway. But surely the city would not have gone several weeks without the ability to fight a potential ethanol fire or spill, which was for too long a delicate reality for residents of Cameron Station and Summers Grove along with Tucker Elementary School students.
So if the first attempt at a relationship between the city and its industrial inhabitant was absurd, what is the appropriate label you give to a company that didnt bother to call 911 when its operation spilled about 50 gallons of the potentially explosive substance? Inconsiderate? Absent-minded? Reckless?
The spill was not considered a grave disaster by any means. It was small, relative to the thousands of gallons the company transfers daily, and somewhat contained. But it proves that NSC is not a responsible corporate citizen. Rather than call the citys emergency response line (the fire department, for instance) it reported the incident to a state authority its closest office being 18 miles away in Woodbridge two hours after the incident occurred.
It only took the Virginia Department of Emergency Management 15 minutes to turn around and alert the Alexandria Fire Department of the spill. How much of the highly flammable (explosive as a vapor) chemical has to spill before it warrants a simple three-button call?
As a corporate and industrial citizen, NSC has the same responsibility to its neighbors and city as any other citizen perhaps even more so because of its particular business within the city limits. After its earlier drawn-out quarrel with the city and subsequent outcry from residents, this omission was careless and thoughtless. Even if the spill was contained and the threat was low, alerting the citys public safety authorities should have been, at the very least, an obvious gesture of precaution.
The inaction speaks to the companys mindset, which is troubling. Federal law preempts Alexandria from interfering with the companys operation because of its association with the railroad, but this does not negate NSCs accountability to its surroundings.
The Contact us section of the states Emergency Management Department directs citizens to report emergencies to your local emergency dispatch center. A chemical spill of any quantity constitutes an emergency and Norfolk Southern most certainly constitutes a citizen. It should act like one and agree to alert the city of any potentially harmful incident at the site.