ENGLEWOOD — One community organization is planning an April 8 public meeting to discuss how an expansion of a South Side rail yard by Mayor Rahm Emanuel could be "fine tuned" before an expected vote by the City Council at its April 10 meeting.
Under the proposal, the city would sell 105 vacant lots to Norfolk Southern Corp. for $1.1 million so the railroad could to expand its rail yard in Englewood. The lots are in the area bounded by Garfield Boulevard, 61st Street, Wallace Street and Stewart Avenue.
"The way the current ordinance stands today I would urge aldermen not to vote for it at their next meeting," said John Paul Jones, president of Sustainable Englewood Initiative, a non-profit organization. "We are talking with Norfolk Southern about their expansion plans in Englewood, but we need to city to get on board and get on board quickly."
The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Englewood United Methodist Church, 6400 S. Stewart Ave.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), whose ward includes the expansion site, did not return calls seeking comment.
The urgency for the city to get more involved was fueled Monday when the city's Housing and Real Estate Committee approved the land sale to the railroad so it can expand its intermodal facility at 361 W. 47th St.
Norfolk Southern wants to expand the rail yard because of traffic volume that has "outgrown our existing facility, and (as a result) we need to expand to improve the yard’s efficiency and reduce rail traffic congestion moving through Chicago," said Robin Chapman, a spokesman for the railroad.
Jones said the expansion would mean 800 trucks a day would come through Englewood, as opposed to an average of 300 a day now.
"The city needs to get their act together because they are ill-equipped to deal with environmental issues as seen yesterday (Monday) when the housing committee approved the sale without looking at the heath risks associated with this expansion," Jones said. "If we could get the public health portion of this ordinance ironed out I would support the ordinance."
According to the Merck Childhood Asthma Network, a non-profit health organization in Washington, D.C., asthma-related hospitalizations in Englewood and West Englewood are among the highest in Chicago at 60 percent and 71 percent, more than double Chicago’s average of 31.6 percent.
But Chapman said the railroad met with Jones and his organization on March 14 and followed up with a letter on March 22 outlining its plans for dealing with air pollution.
"Essentially, the letter recapped what was discussed at the March 14 meeting and provided details about the emissions characteristics of current and future equipment and operations at the facility, and other measures we have taken or plan to take to mitigate the impact of our operations or otherwise support the community," Chapman said.
But beyond health issues Jones said the public needs to know something else about Norfolk Southern.
"This company engaged in slave trade over 100 years ago when it bought rail road companies that used slaves," Jones said. "I don't hear anyone talking about that aspect of the company."
Chapman said Norfolk Southern's slavery ties are old news.
"This is already a matter of public record. We filed a report with the city in response to an ordinance passed several years ago requiring companies to document the extent of their historical ties to slavery," he said.