With the only exit from their neighborhood crossed by a CSX railroad line that ran off the tracks June 28, about three dozen residents of Wilmington’s Love Grove neighborhood attended a city council to voice their concern over a perceived lack of city progress in creating an alternate route.
“We come before our elected and paid officials pleading, pleading for a new exit for our community,” Love Grove resident Lynda McMillan said, speaking during the public information segment at the council’s Oct. 1 meeting. “We pray that a disaster will not have to take place to touch the hearts of those leaders to give us another way to get in and out of Love Grove.”
She added that after she and other community members spoke to the council about the original derailment during its July 9 meeting, another blockage occurred Sept. 4, which lasted about 30 minutes. Love Grove is located at the northernmost extent of 11th Street, bordered by Burnt Mill and Smith Creeks and the surrounding swamps.
“Residents had to pass food, children and other materials across the railroad cars, through the railroad cars, through that period,” McMillan said.
Former councilmember Ronald Sparks also took the podium, focusing his comments on the need for an emergency evacuation plan should a rail-related disaster cut off the isolated north Wilmington community from emergency services.
“This plan should include … an access area, a staging area where the people of Love Grove know to go to in anticipation of support of the City of Wilmington’s two helicopters,” Sparks said. “Secondarily, coordinate with the Red Cross … they already have people thinking about where to feed and house the residents of Love Grove, should they need it.”
In response, Mayor Pro Tem Earl Sheridan asked Tony Caudle, deputy city manager, for updates on the status of negotiations between the city and CSX.
He referenced a proposed feasibility study “has been floated through the CSX hierarchy, and we should have an answer within the next two to three weeks as to whether they are going to fund that study,” Caudle said. “In the interim, staff has met with N.C. [Department of Transportation] CSX and to set up a meeting that will actually occur two weeks from today to discuss alternatives.”
After Sheridan, Mayor Bill Saffo and councilmembers Charlie Rivenbark and Laura Padgett offered support for such a plan. Caudle said city staff would pursue it alongside pursuit of a long-term fix.
Also discussed was a proposed ordinance which would have created a criminal offense for known gang members who gather in public parks. As proposed, it would have resulted in a warning, followed by a second-degree trespassing charge for offenders. Following public scrutiny from the state ACLU regarding potential profiling issues arising from the ordinance’s classification system for gang members the previous weekend, council voted 6-1 to continue the ordinance to the Nov. 6 meeting, with Rivenbark as the lone dissenting vote.