Cities get mixed results in railroad fight



The Great Crepe Myrtle War of 2011, between Norfolk Southern Railway and the cities of Jonesboro and Morrow, is over and several trees in the two towns will come down as causalities of the battle, local officials have confirmed.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the rail road company turned down his city’s request for a variance to keep more than 200 different types of trees, including crepe myrtles, sizzler hollies, and nellies r stevens hollies, along its portion of the rail line. The town has until Oct. 10 to transplant the trees to new locations, or cut them down, the city manager said.

Jonesboro Public Works Director Joe Nettleton, meanwhile, said his city faired a little better in the battle. The rail line agreed to only require the removal of 14 of Jonesboro’s 183 crepe myrtle trees that grow along the rail line, mainly north of Johnson Street, he said. The city will also lose shrubbery located along the rail line, near the old Jonesboro train depot, he said.

The county seat has until Oct. 13 to remove the trees and shrubbery, according to Nettleton.

“We understand that the line of sight needs to be there, for the engineers on the train, but we think this is excessive,” Morrow’s Eady said, recently.

The removal of the trees closes a months-log battle both cities waged with Norfolk Southern. In June, officials with the rail road, and in both cities, confirmed that Norfolk Southern was requiring the cities to remove trees and shrubbery that provided sight obstacles along the company’s rail line.

At the time, the trees were slated to be removed in early July, but local officials pledged war in the media, and then held meetings with rail road executives, which led to the deadline for removing the trees being pushed back. Both cities also sought variances from Norfolk Southern that would exempt them from the company’s policies concerning foliage along rail lines.

But, in the end, neither town was able to sway rail road officials to allow all of the trees and shrubs to remain in place. “We never got anything in writing, but they turned our variance down,” Eady said.

Norfolk Southern Spokesperson Susan Terpay said Tuesday morning that she was working to get information on the situation involving Jonesboro and Morrow’s trees, but no further information was provided as of Tuesday evening.

Both cities are now moving forward with plans to remove their designated trees and shrubs. Nettleton met with Norfolk Southern Tuesday morning to identify which crepe myrtle trees and shrubs were to be removed. He said shrubs located along the rail line, between West Mill Street and Church Street, will have to be removed.

Four crepe myrtles at the intersection of Spring Street and North Main Street must go, and another two will be removed at the intersection of College Street and South Main Street, and eight trees, north of Johnson Street, will have to be removed, according to Nettleton.

“Give it two weeks and everybody will get used to it,” Nettleton said. “It will not be nearly as heartbreaking as it first was going to be.”

Jonesboro did, indeed, come out of the crepe myrtle fight far better off than it originally feared. Initially, the city stood to lose more than 100 trees. Nettleton said the city did not have to make any concessions to the rail road to get the number reduced to 14 trees.

“We just talked real nice, and stood firm on our belief that they were making a big mistake,” the city’s public works director said. “It took a while, but they were easy to work with.”

Eady said Morrow officials, meanwhile, have decided to transplant nearly 40 of that town’s own crepe myrtle trees at the city’s Jester Creek walking path. He explained the work of transplanting the crepe myrtles will be done by city public works employees, but he added an exact cost for the work is not immediately available although it likely figures to be expensive for the city.

“It could be several thousands of dollars,” Eady said. He added that the city would have liked to keep the nellies as well, and plant them along Interstate 75, at the Ga. Hwy. 54 exit (once construction work is done at the exit).

But, the nellies are not likely to survive the process of being transplanted to the interstate, which would involve the trees being moved at least twice because of the construction work, Eady said.

“The fact that we have had no rain here in recent months makes the ground hard as a rock, and it’s just not a good time to transfer the trees,” Morrow’s city manager said. “Wherever you put them, you’re going to have to water them in for anywhere between four to six weeks, to make sure they survive. So, there’s no guarantee that they’ll even survive ... So, they’re going to have to go.”