Norfolk Southern Corp. has dropped plans to build a rail transfer facility on the site of the former Chattahoochee Brick Co. in Atlanta, which has a tragic history of forced labor around the turn of the 20th century. NS terminated its plan after the city petitioned the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for a preliminary injunction against the project. "We accepted from the beginning that we had a special responsibility to develop this site in a socially and environmentally responsible way, given the atrocities that once took place there," said NS Chairman President and Chief Executive Officer James Squires in a press release. "We believe our project presented an opportunity to create a long-overdue memorial to the painful legacy of the site, and at the same time reshape its future by building new river trails and putting the long-abandoned land back into productive use in a way that benefits the regional economy." The city's STB filing notes the site's "tremendous historical and cultural significance" to Atlanta, and that there's evidence indicating the site is a burial ground. Although NS officials believe the city's action lacks legal merit, they do not want to engage in protracted litigation if the city opposes the project, they said. "We pride ourselves on being a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate," said Squires. "In this case, that means walking away from the project despite our very best efforts to work with the community on the responsible development of the site." Throughout 2020, NS worked with local elected officials, held multiple meetings to listen to concerns of community stakeholders and incorporated that feedback into plans for the site, NS officials said. The company also engaged outside experts to perform an archaeological and historical survey, as well as archaeological excavation in certain areas. No evidence was found of a cemetery on the site, but given the site's tragic legacy, the company committed to exercise "great care" as development continued, NS officials said. NS will complete the necessary work to stabilize and secure the site and then withdraw, they added.
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