Updated Wednesday at 8:52 p.m.
Atlanta City Council and other local officials are asking Norfolk Southern railroad to change its plans for a fuel terminal near the Perimeter.
The site of the proposed industrial development has an ugly history that neighborhood advocates want to see memorialized.
The property was once the location of the Chattahoochee Brick Company, a factory that used convict labor, forcing people, mostly Black men, to work under awful, slave-like conditions decades after slavery was abolished.
Some neighbors have been pushing for a memorial to the victims of convict leasing to be built there, along with a park.
But Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern is leasing the property from the biofuel shipping company Lincoln Energy Solutions in order to build an ethanol facility there.
Councilman Dustin Hillis, who represents the area, along with the rest of council and other local officials including Fulton County Chairman Rob Pitts and State House Representative Sheila Jones, are asking Norfolk Southern to reconsider.
In a letter sent Monday, Hillis offered to help find a different location, and even to buy the property.
“Under normal circumstances, community opposition would stem from concerns over increasing truck traffic, additional noise, and the inherent danger of another fuel facility in this area,” he wrote. “But this community opposition is further exacerbated by the history and the ecological importance of the site.”
The land is along the Chattahoochee River and near Proctor Creek, both waterways that the city has worked to clean up and protect.
“My ultimate goal is for this sacred piece of land to become a memorial park that people could come to and enjoy, and reflect on the atrocities of the past,” Hillis told WABE.
A spokesman for Norfolk Southern said they have received the letter. “We are reviewing it and preparing a response to Councilman Hillis, because this project is of great importance for us,” he said.
Lincoln Energy Solutions didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who didn’t sign the letter, but was cc’ed as a recipient.
Norfolk Southern, which is moving its headquarters to Atlanta, has said it would hold community meetings about its plans for the Chattahoochee Brick site.
Hillis said that he had supported Norfolk Southern’s efforts to move to Atlanta. The announcement of the rail terminal development “comes as a personal slap in the face,” he wrote.
The Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, which is the umbrella group of Atlanta’s neighborhood planning units, is considering a resolution in opposition to the freight terminal.