New Bern Board of Aldermen authorizes execution of agreement with railroad

East Rose Street in New Bern, NC.
East Rose Street in New Bern, NC.

The New Bern Board of Aldermen agreed to pay $435,934 to lease a portion of the North Carolina Railroad Company’s property for a stormwater project. Grant funding that was initially designated for wetland mitigation fees could be used to pay for part of the lease, according to the city’s director of public works.

The City of New Bern reached an agreement with the North Carolina Railroad Company and the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company to modify a lease for a portion of the railroad corridor to install a “stormwater pipe under and across the right of way or property of the company” near East Rose Street in the Duffyfield area.

George Chiles, director of public works, presented a supplemental pipeline agreement to the Board of Aldermen during the meeting on May 28, 2024.

He said the city is working on phase 1 of the Duffyfield Enhancement Stormwater Project and they need to install a force main along the southern side of East Rose Street between the East Rose Pump Station and Biddle Street Pond.

Chiles said they are currently paying approximately $5,500 to lease a portion of the property for a pipe in a perpendicular crossing.

He said, “We’re going to abandon that pipe because it’s smaller and it doesn’t connect directly to the outfall. We needed to not create additional flooding on the north side of the tracks.”

The agreement notes the city has the option of paying NCRR a one-time fee of $435,934 or they can opt to pay an initial fee of $270,000 along with an annual fee of $5,000 that will increase by 5% each year. Norfolk Southern is asking for a one-time fee of $200.

Chiles said they could use $270,000 of grant funding, which was the “engineer’s estimate for wetland mitigation” for the project.

He said, “With recent changes to the determination of isolated wetlands, we’re no longer going to have to use that money for wetland mitigation.”

The changes were described in an email to Jeff Welker, grants manager with NC Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management.

Chiles wrote, “Recent changes to the Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS) based on a Supreme Court ruling changed the jurisdictional ruling for the hydraulically disconnected wetland located within the project area to Federally Non-Jurisdictional. In addition, the 2023 NC Farm Act (Session Law 2023-63/15A NCAC 2B 0202) limits NCDEQ jurisdiction to only federally jurisdictional wetlands. In short, the onsite wetlands impacted by the proposed improvements are not considered jurisdictional to either USACOE or NCDEQ and thus mitigation fees are no longer applicable to this project.”

George Chiles told the board, “This was a little bit higher value property to them because it’s in the rail siding section so the linear footage or the square footage value goes up.”

Alderman Rick Prill said, “It just strikes me as being an exorbitant amount of money that we are being charged by the railroad.”

He said, “I don’t know this for a fact, but chances are, that if the railroad ever did any improvements within the right of way, chances are they would not go out to the very outer edges of the right-of-way with whatever improvement they might do. So there would really be no impact on the buried force main that we’re looking to put in.”

Prill noted, “I think the board needs to kind of keep this in the back of our minds when we have future dealings with the railroad.”

George Chiles said, “I would like to say that this was not the first number that we received. They did come down a considerable amount and offered us a lump sum payout, that is not a normal offering, it’s usually on an annual basis.”

Mayor Jeffrey Odham said, “When we explained to them that this was a vital project to help remove flooding water from a distressed community, did they come down some, sure, but their first number was asinine to begin with. To me this is certainly not a partnership by any means or stretch in imagination. This is North Carolina railroad taking advantage of the law and the legal authority that they have to shake down the City of New Bern for this project. That’s the way I see it. I know that they want to partner with us on the depot and I look forward to those negotiations because I can tell them what they can do with their depot.”

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a resolution that authorized the city manager to execute documents related to the supplemental pipeline agreement with NC Railroad and Norfolk Southern.

There are four phases of the stormwater project. Additional wetlands and containment areas will be included in phase 2 and 3. Phase 4 includes construction of a park and greenway.

According to a map, project information sheet and public input survey on the NCDOT’s website, the preferred route for the East Coast Greenway includes a rail trail between East Rose Street and Pasteur/Queen Street.

The ECG would connect downtown New Bern to Martin Marietta Park to Washington Post Road.

The information sheet notes, the city would need to “secure use of an active railroad ROW (right of way) to be a rail-with-trail.”

The next Board of Aldermen meeting will be held on June 11 at 6 p.m. at City Hall located at 300 Pollock Street. See the full agenda and packet here.

Video recordings of city meetings are available on City 3 TV here.

By Wendy Card, editor. Send an email with questions or comments.

Related article: $1.6M contract approved to complete Phase 1 of Duffyfield Stormwater Project