During a recent meeting with residents of northern Murray County, officials with the Georgia Ports Authority vowed to work with them to ease any concerns they have about an inland port planned for the Crandall area, and to take steps to reduce its impact on that area.
"But we aren't going to move it (the port) somewhere else," said project manager John Trent. "I'm sorry. That just isn't going to happen."
About a half dozen citizens opposed to the port met at the Murray County courthouse annex with officials from the ports authority, CSX Transportation and Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced the Appalachian Regional Port in July at the Murray County courthouse, where officials from the state, the ports authority, CSX and Murray County signed a memorandum of understanding for the port.
Commercial trucks will drop off and pick up loads at the port, which will be connected to the Port of Savannah by CSX railroad.
The port, expected to be operational in 2018, will be built on 42 acres of cattle pasture just off U.S. 411 near the Petty-Fairy Valley Park.
The residents had a number of questions, but one kept coming up throughout the meeting.
"What makes this piece of property the one you chose, and is it the only one in north Georgia that will work?" said Patty Schoen-Jones.
Trent said it's "actually pretty difficult, especially in this part of the state," to find a property that meets all of the agency's requirements.
"We need a property of sufficient size, where the railroad is fairly level with the ground and not raised up," he said. "It has to be pretty flat, but it can't be too wet."
The property has to have road access, but the road and the railroad have to be well separated from each other, he added.
"We can't have trucks driving over the railroad when they enter and leave," he said.
Several members of the citizens group said they weren't opposed to the port but did not understand why it wasn't located near the interstate.
Trent said the ports authority looked at a piece of property in Dalton off Connector 3 that met their needs in many ways but ultimately the cost of the infrastructure would have been too great.
"We would have had to move a bridge, and that was just not financially feasible," he said.
Michael Jones said his own background in trucking and transportation makes him worried about the impact a large diesel spill could have on Sumac Creek or the Conasauga River.
"I can tell you it's not a question of if but a question of when," he said.
But port authority officials said the property will not drain directly into any waterway but into a retention pond. They said if there is a spill it would be trapped by the pond.
Still, residents at the meeting didn't seem to be persuaded by those assurances and said they fear the impact the port will have on the quiet, rural community nestled near the Cohutta Wilderness Area and the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Trent said the port will use advanced lighting to reduce the impact of light pollution on the community, as well as build berms to help contain the sound. He said the ports authority had reached out to a nearby church, agreeing to help with noise buffers, and had agreed not to load and unload containers during regular Sunday and Wednesday church hours.
The port is expected to cost $24 million, with about $10 million from the state, $7.5 million from the ports authority to develop the site, $5.5 million from CSX and some $1 million from Murray County.
While the residents who arranged the meeting and officials from the ports authority and the railroad definitely did not reach a consensus, they did agree to keep talking.
"We are going to be back up here. This is our first meeting, but it won't be our last," said Trent.
Information from: The Daily Citizen.