Of trains and tree limbs: Jemison addresses concerns

Published 1:26 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Parked trains are making drivers antsy. Downed tree limbs need a place to burn.

Jemison City Council addressed these citizen concerns in a City Council meeting Aug. 7 and recently provided some updates regarding both matters.

Trains are being parked and then abandoned on the tracks for an extended period of time, often blocking railroad crossings and frustrating citizens with the inconvenience.

Mayor Eddie Reed said the situation is complicated on multiple levels, including the two-mile lengths of some trains and their subsequent slow speeds, as well as the authority of CSX Corporation.

“They’re protected by the government on this thing. That makes it tough,” Reed said.

As of Aug. 15, city officials have met with CSX representatives and U.S. Congressman Gary Palmer to discuss the matter, City Administrator Shannon Welch said.

“This isn’t just a problem that’s developed here in Jemison,” Welch said. “It’s all over the place.”

Alabaster, Pelham and Helena are experiencing even greater difficulties than Jemison, he said.

“They have assured us that they’re working on the problem and that it wouldn’t be a [permanent] problem,” Welch said.

According to Welch, CSX is struggling to adjust to multiple employment layoffs and retirements. Because retired employees have not yet been replaced, the train-engineer ratio has been thrown off balance.

“So, there’s more trains and products than there are engineers to drive the trains,” Welch said. “And when that happens, your train yards are full. And then when your train yards get full, then all of the sidetracks along the railway start filling up.”

Welch said, “They have assured us that they are working on the solution and it wouldn’t be much longer before these problems will start going away.”

Concerning tree limb burning, Reed said the city was contacted by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) with a courtesy request that tree limbs be burned on the property they originated from, at the penalty of major fines if violated.

“Now, that puts us in a bind,” Reed said.
Welch explained that for years it has been a city service to pick up and burn citizens’ disposed tree limbs.

“We no longer issue burning permits because of the distance it has to be [from the property line],” City Clerk Sylvia Singleton said.

According to one Councilman, tree limbs are required to burn about 500 feet from the property line, and most property owners don’t own enough land to fulfill this requirement.

Reed said one option is to follow another city’s example by burying the collected limbs in deep trenches. But Jemison doesn’t have the land, and landfills outside the city are not feasible for transportation reasons, he said.

“We’re working on options, though,” Welch said. Welch said the superintendent is working diligently to find a solution.

“He’s got three or four different avenues he’s working with,” Welch said, explaining the most viable and cost-sensitive option will soon be presented to the Council.

“[We] should have something in a couple weeks—an alternate route disposing of all of our tree limbs. That’s what we’re working towards,” Welch said.