A second front has opened in the so-called "second battle of Jonesboro," otherwise known as the fight over whether railroad operator, Norfolk Southern, will get a chance to cut down several trees along its rail line in Clayton County.
Officials in Jonesboro and Morrow have confirmed that they have been in talks with each other about how the two cities can jointly save their trees along the rail line.
The railroad company says it wants to remove trees and other plants that are more than 30 inches tall, and within 25 feet of the center of the rail line, and 300 feet along the line on either side of a railroad crossing. The intent is to improve visibility, company officials have said.
Jonesboro stands to lose more than 100 18-year-old crepe myrtle trees. Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said his city stands to lose more than 200 trees (out of approximately 400), including crepe myrtles, sizzler hollies, and nelly r stevens hollies. Officials in both cities have said they are not ready to give up their trees, however.
"We're going to work with Jonesboro," said Eady. "I've spoken with [Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox] down there several times. He calls me every few days to see if I've heard from the railroad."
Since news broke that Jonesboro leaders were planning to fight Norfolk Southern over its crepe myrtle trees, interest has grown in what may be a looming battle with the railroad.
On Monday, Maddox said a public relations firm, which he said he could not name, has offered its assistance in waging a public battle to save the trees. The mayor also said the federal Department of Transportation was expected to send out inspectors this week to check out Jonesboro's crepe myrtles and railroad crossings in the city.
He added that he is scheduled to meet with transportation department officials on Monday. The city is also drafting a letter to Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Officer Charles W. Moorman, in which the city will state its case for why the crepe myrtles should be saved, the mayor said.
"If we can reach a compromise, that would be preferable," Maddox said. "If not, then we're going to fight tooth and nail."
Both cities were originally told Norfolk Southern officials that their trees would be cut down on July 1, but Eady said Morrow has pleaded for a little bit more time, and it appears their wish may have been granted. He said he got an e-mail from Norfolk Southern officials this week, informing him that the city's deadline has been pushed back to mid-October.
"Upon our first meeting, it was July 1, and we asked for more time," Eady said. "It's not the right time to transplant a tree. The best time to transplant a tree is in the fall ... If they would give us until the fall, we would come up with a plan, and we would put some action plans together."
A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Eady and Jonesboro City Councilmember Pat Sebo said Morrow and Jonesboro face a similar problem in that neither city has the money to move their trees, or to address the aesthetics of their respective areas, if the trees are cut down. "We don't have the funds, as a city, to re-landscape that area," Sebo said.
Of Morrow's situation, Eady said: "We're going to have to partner with somebody, because we simply don't have the budget. We don't have the funds. We don't have the machinery to transplant [the trees]. It's going to take some work, and it's going to take a partnership."
Maddox has talked about possibly taking legal action against Norfolk Southern to save the trees, but Eady said he would prefer it not come to that.
"I hope not," Eady said. "I don't think that's necessary. I think if we just sit down at the table and have some good dialog, we can all compromise and come to an agreement."
People who live in both cities have publicly, and privately, said they want the trees to remain because of the aesthetic qualities they bring to Morrow and Jonesboro. Eady and Maddox have said their respective cities planted their trees years ago with Norfolk Southern's permission.
Arts Clayton Executive Director Linda Summerlin called the railroad's plans for Jonesboro "crepe murder" on Thursday.
Jonesboro resident, Beverly Lester, pleaded with the Jonesboro City Council on Monday to find a way to save the trees, arguing that they add to the beauty of the city. "We get a lot of positive comments from visitors to this area about how pretty they are when they are in bloom, and I would just hate to see those be tossed to the wayside," Lester said. "Surely to goodness, there has to be some other way to resolve this issue."