Residents want Macon-Bibb County P&Z to defer rail spur vote

Neighborhood residents living near Sofkee Industrial Park are asking that a decision on a proposed rail spur there be deferred until the project’s health and environmental impact can be determined.

At its meeting Monday, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to decide on Epic Midstream LLC’s application to rezone 2840 Barnes Ferry Road from an agricultural district to a wholesale and light industrial district. That would allow the company to build a rail spur that would help service a pipeline loading station.

But at a Friday news conference, the Rev. Arthur Hubbard of Stubbs Chapel Missionary Baptist Church -- himself a former P&Z board member -- and neighborhood residents said they have concerns over the environmental impact of the project, since it involves loading ethanol into a pipeline from the rails.

Hubbard said a previous oil spill in 1980 affected wells and soil in the area, and residents have gotten sick over the years. Hubbard said residents also have concerns about the impact of potential leaks.

“We already have an ongoing problem from a fuel line that was placed here in 1960,” Hubbard said. “That fuel line busted back in 1980. We’re in the process now of trying to clean up that problem. Bringing the ethanol (rail) cars in here, that’s subject to create another problem for us, and we have not covered one problem before we develop another problem.”

The latest P&Z report about the zoning request indicates that its employees think the change is in order.

“...(S)taff is of the opinion that the proposal as submitted is in compliance with the existing and future land use pattern and that it would not adversely influence living conditions in the surrounding areas,” the report said. “In terms of quality of life, staff is of the opinion that the proposed M-1 zoning district is not out of scale with the existing zoning trends in the area.”

An attempt to reach Epic Midstream for comment Friday was unsuccessful. Previously, an Epic official said the pipeline has not leaked since the 1980s.

Hubbard said he’s been in contact with the state’s Environmental Protection Division to have the soil and water in the area tested. He said there’s never been an environmental or health study done in the area.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who represents that part of the county, attended the gathering and said that residents aren’t necessarily trying to kill the project, but just defer it long enough for the studies. The item has already been deferred from the previous month’s meeting.

“We want (P&Z) to defer acting on (the company’s) request until all this is done,” she said. “If (there’s no environmental) problem, that’s fine and everyone can go on their business as usual. (Deferring it) will give the company a chance to explain.”

Lucas said she’s been in contact with the local health department, Mayor Robert Reichert and environmental groups to get their support on the issue, and she said her husband, state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, is willing to work on it at the state level.

Hubbard said there are also concerns about adding to the existing rail line. With only a few entrances into the neighborhood, railroad traffic can often block vehicles from entering and leaving the area, including emergency vehicles, he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.