Norfolk Southern – A tremendous tragedy struck the citizens of East Palestine, Ohio, in early February.
As a Norfolk Southern train derailed, toxic substances were spilled into the air and neighboring water.
Residents returned warily after being evacuated, but the harm had already been done.
While Norfolk Southern has helped to restore normalcy to East Palestine, many people have expressed their outrage and dissatisfaction.
Jim Stewart is just one of several East Palestine residents who have complained about the train transit firm.
When the Norfolk Southern train crashed and spilled hazardous cargo, he was about to sell his house and retire.
Stewart is now concerned that the value of his property has declined.
He and his wife planned to list the property in the spring, while prices were still rising and inventory was limited.
They also talked about his son’s family acquiring their own property down the street from them.
“Since the derailment, I lost all those options,” said Stewart. “Who is going to buy contaminated land?”
“The older people are willing to stay and live it out. The younger bunch, they are smarter. They’re thinking of their families.”
“I wouldn’t want my grandchildren here. We don’t know if the ground is going to be good enough to grow grass. There are too many unknowns.”
James Stewart expressed his displeasure with the derailment during a Town Hall meeting on February 22.
“You burned me,” he told Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw.
“We were going to sell our house. Our value went phoom.”
When asked if Norfolk Southern intended to buy Stewart’s house, Shaw replied: “We’re going to do what’s right for this community.”
James Stewart works as a manager for a commercial baking company.
“I worked hard. I’m still working,” he reportedly told Shaw. “I’m in the 44th year at my job. I wanted to get out. Now I’m just stuck.”
The home was valued $85,000 when Stewart acquired it in 2016.
He feels he has lost a significant amount of wealth as a result of the derailment.
According to Zillow, the property was valued $135,000 in February, but the paucity of transactions has made a current appraisal tough to come up with.
“I’ll never get that. I’ll be lucky to get what I paid for it, if that,” Stewart said regarding the estimate.
He also feels that the renovations and testing required to assure the house’s safety would be too expensive.
Jim Stewart is one of many people who have been let down by Alan Shaw and Norfolk Southern.
Neither the CEO nor the corporation has promised to pay for the property’s diminished worth.
Sen. Ed Markey pressed Shaw four times at last Thursday’s Senate session to commit to paying homeowners.
Shaw, on the other hand, just gave a frustrated response: “Senator, I’m committed to do what’s right.”
Markey refused to accept his response, stating:
“Will you commit to ensuring that these families, these innocent families do not lose their life savings in their homes and small businesses? The right thing to do is to say, ‘Yes, we will.'”
“These families want to know long term, are they just going to be left behind. Once the cameras move on, once the national attention dies down, where will these families be?”
“I think they’re going to be in the crosshairs of the accountants of Norfolk Southern saying ‘We’re not going to pay full compensation.'”
Compensation for homeowners and businesses isn’t tough for a firm the magnitude of Norfolk Southern.
East Palestine is home to around 5,000 inhabitants and 2,600 residential structures.
According to Attom, the average property value in January 2023 will be $146,000.
All residential real estate in town, including single-family homes and multi-family structures, is valued at around $380 million.
The values represent only a small portion of Norfolk Southern’s income.
In 2022, the firm earned $4.8 billion in operating income and $3.3 billion in net income, up 9% over the previous year.
Norfolk Southern has $456 million in cash on hand as of December 31.
The corporation was returning profits to shareholders, repurchasing $3.1 billion in shares and paying $1.2 billion on dividends in 2022.
Norfolk Southern declared a 9% dividend hike just days before the catastrophe.
The company’s board of directors approved a $10 billion share repurchase plan in 2022, with power to acquire $7.5 billion of the remaining funds as of December 31.
At the hearing on Thursday, Senator Jeff Merkley questioned the company:
“Will you pledge to no more stock buybacks until a raft of safety measures have been completed to reduce the risk of derailments and crashes in the future?”
Alan Shaw, on the other hand, dodged the subject by responding, “I will commit to continuing to invest in safety.”
Norfolk Southern also spends a lot of money on lobbying, spending $1.8 million last year, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Senators questioned the lobbying spending at the session, mostly because Shaw refused to commit to supporting the bipartisan bill sponsored by the Senate following the derailment to improve train safety.
Alan Shaw refused to support the bill’s provisions when asked about them.
Instead, he answered: “We are committed to the legislative intent to make rail safer.”