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Town scolds CSX over drainage, floods

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SMITHFIELD — Town leaders have adopted a resolution admonishing railroad company CSX for failing to clean clogged ditches and storm drains on its property, which causes or contributes to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Mayor Andy Moore and all seven Smithfield Town Council members signed the resolution during their Sept. 3 meeting and directed town staff to send it to CSX.

The company owns, maintains and controls 9.04 miles of railway and 5.8 miles of railroad right-of-way within the town of Smithfield.

“Town staff cannot clear the storm drains or ditches of debris on CSX property because it would be considered trespassing and it is also not the town’s responsibility to maintain CSX Railroad’s property,” according to a description of the resolution on the Smithfield Town Council agenda.

The resolution states that ill-maintained railroad infrastructure creates a manmade dam for stormwater flowing from Smithfield into its natural tributaries to the Neuse River and contends CSX refuses to have an ongoing maintenance program to prevent debris from clogging its pipes and ditches, eliminating stormwater flow.

Council members allege CSX Railroad’s failure to maintain its rights of way and drainage ditches has caused substantial damage, both financial and otherwise, to Smithfield residents and property owners.

“Basically we want them to increase the size of the stormwater pipe between Smithfield and Interstate 95 to handle slow water efficiently and to manage their rights of way better,” said Town Manager Michael Scott.

Scott said government officials at the local and state levels have been trying for years to work with CSX to improve stormwater delivery leaving Smithfield and passing under and along the CSX railroad tracks.

Scott said the town feels CSX “has been a poor partner in this process.”

“It has been an ongoing problem for quite a while,” he said. “In 1985, we had a study done that determined we needed to increase the size of our drainage pipes that run underneath the railroad to move the water better. After Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016, we were flooded in the area around the railroad and shortly after that, we had an 8-inch rainfall and were flooded again.”

Scott said Smithfield officials met with state Reps. Larry Strickland, R-Johnston, and Donna White, R-Johnston, in 2017 to seek help from the General Assembly.

Town staff also met with CSX representatives on three occasions and provided examples of the problem, Scott said.

“They basically told us they do not have to maintain their rights of way unless someone complains, that the railroad was here before the town of Smithfield increased in size and thus it was not their responsibility,” said Scott. “We discussed a cost-sharing plan for handling the problem with them at that time. They were open to the idea at first but changed their minds later and said again it was not their problem.”

According to Scott, CSX officials have said the flooding isn’t the company’s problem as long as the trains are able to run.

“We conducted a stormwater study last year to see what we should do about the problem and were able to get a $77,000 grant to conduct the study,” said Scott.

The study recommended Smithfield form a stormwater committee to help resolve flooding issues. Scott said CSX should also be involved in the process.

“The obvious question arose of how to implement the plan and how to pay for it,” said Scott. “Council approved for us to do that, so this is where we are now.”

Scott said town officials will contact interested parties to inquire about serving on the committee.

“We feel like we have done everything we can do,” said Scott. “We have tried to work with CSX and we are really upset with the responses we have been getting from them. We are going to be contacting our state and national legislators once again to help get CSX to be a good neighbor with Smithfield.”