Lexington is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to fix sewer and stormwater problems that have plagued the community for decades, fouling streams, flooding streets and houses, in some cases even killing people.
It’s not too much to ask Norfolk Southern Railroad to work with the city to take care of silty water and debris from its roadbed that are polluting a local stream and contributing to flooding by clogging stormwater drains near Southland Drive.
The city has asked the railroad to clean up the water, supported by complaints and documentation from the Friends of Wolf Run, a local water watchdog group. In response, the railroad presented a long list of reasons why it’s not legally responsible for the runoff, suggesting that others have penetrated its secure right of way, routing polluted water through its drainage ditches.
It’s easy to understand that was the first response from a large business like Norfolk Southern with 20,000 miles of roadbed to maintain. Sometimes it works — pesky neighbors wear out and an expense is avoided.
But the railroad company, which proclaims on the first page of its website that “we make our community yours,” might be wise to rethink that strategy here.
Lexington’s spending on storm water is mandated by a consent decree reached several years ago with the Environmental Protection Agency, which had sued the city for violations of the Clean Water Act. So, the city doesn’t have the option of walking away — even if it wanted to — when blocked storm drains cause flooding.
The city is in fact in the early stages of a huge investment to reduce stormwater and flooding issues in the Southland area, along with other measures to improve the pedestrian experience there. Among them is a plan to convert the cement culvert that contains Wolf Run Creek in the area into a more natural and inviting green space.
And then there are the Friends of Wolf Run. As the group notes on its web page, it’s been incorporated as a nonprofit since 2005 but active since 1997. The well-respected advocacy group has a 15-member science advisory team and a host of well-trained volunteers. Their stated belief, one they’ve acted on for two decades, is that “neighbors, with the right information, working together, can make a difference in the quality of our creek.”
The work of those neighbors documenting and reporting the water issues related to Norfolk Southern’s rail operations can be found in the website’s monitoring section under the label “Deerfield Discharge.” (Deerfield is the name of the immediate neighborhood.)
Norfolk Southern is based in Virginia and, in terms of employees, has only a small presence in Lexington. So, it may not seem like our community is indeed theirs.
But their dirty water is ours now, clogging our pipes, choking our stream. Here’s hoping they find a way to work with us to fix it.