Gambling on the Neighborhood

The other day, The Elkridge Patch reported that some homeowners who built or bought near the proposed CSX intermodal facility in Elkridge sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski asking for her “support in ensuring that the [intermodal freight transfer station] is not built next to a residential neighborhood and that such language preventing its location in proximity to residences is formally added to the site selection criteria.”

In other words, they are asking for new language in addition to what is in the formal federal environmental and location-selection process, to effectively exclude the Elkridge area as a possibility for the facility.

The Senator’s office told a reporter that they hadn’t yet received the letter from the residents, but, “The decision on where to build this facility must only be made with the participation and support of the local community… The federal environmental review process that is being used to evaluate the potential sites requires that the factors to be considered include impacts to the environment, as well as impacts to neighboring communities, including noise, traffic, appearance and residents’ rights to enjoy their homes and property.”

It’s a fair response.  I agree with the senator that the federal process should be thorough and transparent, and expect that it will. But the fact is, a US Senator must consider their entire constituency, and not just those who oppose a certain project.

Look. We’re in the worst recession since The Great Depression, unemployment is 9.2%, and gas is $3 and change. Something needs to happen, and fast. This proposed project would instantly create jobs and increase tax revenues for Howard County, yet we have a small number of people trying to block that because they don’t want it in their backyards.

It sounds like these people didn’t do their homework on the area – in a couple of ways.

First – and this is an honest question – when they made the choice to live in that development, what did they think might happen with the site next door? After all, they purchased their homes with an active rail line and industrially zoned site as a neighbor. Right?  You walk into purchasing a new house with your eyes wide open to the possibility that the landowners around you may decide to exercise their own property rights.  It’s not that I don’t sympathize, but they knew this was a risk.

Second, as I wrote about before, Elkridge itself was founded because of its ability to easily move people and goods. Its history goes back almost three centuries as a port and shipping hub, when settlers sent out tobacco on English ships at Elkridge Landing.  Its ideal geographic location as a water and rail crossroads – not to mention, more recently, air and highway – has made it a gateway to America, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it helped us become the most powerful nation on earth. In these tough economic times, this could be a real opportunity for Elkridge to again lead us to prosperity.

I don’t know which site is the best place for the facility they are talking about (although I am going to research this topic some more).  Wherever it goes in Maryland, and whatever county reaps the benefits, however, let’s at least be fair and realistic about the selection.

We must not reject outright what could be an enormous and much-needed boon to the local economy because of a handful of folks who took a real estate gamble.

-Brian Dunn

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Columbia 2.0 is a thriving grass-roots organization whose mission is to support the Next Generation of Columbia Town Center.

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