RADFORD – The removal of nearly two million railroad ties that have been buried along Radford’s riverfront for decades is now complete, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday.
“The cleanup of almost 2 million railroad ties from a site in Radford brings to an end a multi-year effort to clear the former industrial location and eliminate a potential environmental concern,” reads a statement from the DEQ released Thursday. “Norfolk Southern Railway Co. completed removal of the ties earlier this month, delivering on a long-standing offer to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to transport the ties for free if a suitable disposal site could be found.”
The removal, which took about five months, opens up seven acres of industrial property, with rail service and utilities in place, for redevelopment. Radford Economic Development Director Basil Edwards has been working on the removal since he started with the city in 1999 and said Thursday he is “tickled to death” the ties are finally gone after all these years. Edwards also credited the late Larry Amy, who was an engineer for the city’s public works department, for working on the problem for a decade prior to Edwards working on it. Edwards said the removal not only takes care of an environmental and safety hazard; it is also good for economic development.
“There are a least two good, flat lots down there that now can be used for new business, with rail access,” he said.
In a “state of the city” presentation to Radford City Council last year, Radford City Manager David Ridpath announced the clean-up project and said at the time the removal of the railroad ties is good for Radford on several fronts.
“Over a million crossties have been lying around there for 25 years,” Ridpath said. “I am very excited about [the removal]. It eliminates a big fire hazard, it opens up land for potential development, it’s good for the environment and it helps beautify our riverfront.”
The ties were stockpiled by a private developer, not the railroad, and DEQ Director David K. Paylor credited Norfolk Southern for stepping up to the plate.
“Norfolk Southern deserves a great deal of credit for this project,” Paylor said. “They willingly removed these old railroad ties at their own expense, and the result is a new opportunity for productive use of industrial property in Radford. This effort is a clear demonstration of their commitment to stewardship.”
According to the DEQ, the ties date to the 1980s, when they were “sold and stockpiled for reuse on a private site known as the Hammond property.”
“The owner eventually declared bankruptcy, leaving the property abandoned and the ties posing a fire hazard and other environmental concerns,” reads the DEQ statement. “Three years ago, DEQ’s Brownfields Program, with support from the DEQ regional office in Roanoke, began researching alternatives to traditional disposal by working with private companies to remove the ties.
“In early 2011, in response to DEQ’s ongoing efforts to get the site cleaned up, Norfolk Southern proposed a solution that involved transporting the ties via rail to approved disposal facilities. DEQ and Norfolk Southern signed an agreement in July to begin the voluntary removal of the ties.”
The ties have been taken to a facility in Pennsylvania that specializes in incinerating treated wood to create energy.