Moving beyond carbon

Norfolk Southern looks for meaningful ways to partner with local governments and community groups to conserve natural resources, reflecting our desire to be a good corporate neighbor. The railroad’s efforts in our own backyard, not far from our downtown headquarters in Norfolk, Va., are an example.

Helping to restore a river’s health
Employees in our headquarters building in Norfolk have a sweeping view of the Elizabeth River as it winds by shipyards, marinas, and office towers. Sparkling in the sun, the waterfront scene is beautiful to behold — but all is not well with the river. Decades of industrial activity along its shores, much of it before businesses began adopting practices to protect the environment, have rendered it one of the most polluted rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Just a few miles up the river from our downtown headquarters, our Lamberts Point coal pier loads export coal on ships bound for Europe, South America, and Asia. As a user of the river, we believe our railroad has a corporate responsibility to minimize our impact and do what we can to help restore the river’s water quality and ecological health.

We have implemented a stormwater collection system that removes coal particles from runoff and enables us to reuse the water for dust suppression in our operations. In this way, we conserve water and reduce our operating costs.

Through our Thoroughbred Volunteers, an employee at our Lamberts Point 38th Street Car Shop spearheaded a project to raise oysters in waters near the coal pier — part of a community effort to repopulate the river with the bivalves in recognition of the role this species plays in filtering pollutants. For our voluntary efforts to protect and improve the river’s water quality, the nonprofit conservation group, Elizabeth River Project, presented us with a Sustained Distinguished Performance River Star award.

In our latest endeavor, we plan to create a “living shoreline” along a quarter-mile stretch at Lamberts Point. Up and down the river, the shoreline has suffered erosion and been overtaken by Phragmites, an invasive reed that chokes out other plant life and provides little value for wildlife. We are working with the city, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Elizabeth River Project to restore wetlands on our shore property and to encourage growth of native vegetation that will support fish, shorebirds, and other creatures.

This project is an example of how businesses and residents can join forces to benefit communities for generations to come.

“Norfolk Southern has been an enthusiastic partner to do what it can to help clean up the river. We appreciate the leadership the company has shown at Lamberts Point. The shoreline there is one of the longest stretches on the main stem of the river, and Norfolk Southern has been great about looking at the best restoration options. It’s an excellent project that has lots of opportunities.”
Pamela Boatwright,deputy director of administration and manager of the River Stars Program for the Elizabeth River Project.

Bobby Carlow

Our resident oyster farmer
As general foreman at Norfolk Southern’s 38th Street Car Shop in Norfolk, Bobby Carlow makes sure railcars are properly maintained. As NS’ resident oyster farmer, he ensures that baby oysters reach maturity so they can be released into the Elizabeth River as part of a unique oyster restoration program.

Carlow began raising oysters along the shoreline at our Lamberts Point coal transload facility three years ago through a partnership between the railroad and the nonprofit Elizabeth River Project, a group that advocates cleaning up the river’s water quality. He was serving on the railroad’s Thoroughbred Volunteers Council at the time, and he saw it as a good way to give back to the community. In addition to being tasty, oysters naturally filter and clean the water.

“This is a good area for us to show our commitment to provide a cleaner environment for the region and future generations,” Carlow said.

Carlow knows his way around power tools. As a Thoroughbred Volunteer, he has built wheelchair ramps for adults with disabilities, repaired roofs and windows for low-income elderly residents, and cleaned up trash during Clean the Bay day. Raising oysters was totally different.

Working with the Elizabeth River Project and the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center, Carlow wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He initially attached mesh bags full of juvenile oysters, known as spats, to a bulkhead at the Lamberts Point docks, near the railroad’s export coal pier. “It was hit or miss the first couple of years,” he said, noting that storms wreaked havoc on the mollusks.

In October 2012, however, he stuck the latest crop of baby oysters onto half shells and placed them into crab pots that were lowered to the river bottom. “They’re doing fantastically,” Carlow said. “They’re easier to maintain, and I don’t have to clean algae off the pots, like I did on the bags.”

The project also has become a communal one. Some of the carmen who report to Carlow have taken on responsibility to check on the oysters. “They really like to see their babies grow,” he said.

When the oysters reach adulthood, staffers from the Elizabeth River Project and the restoration center transplant them onto artificial reefs in the river to filter sediments and pollutants. An oyster can filter and clean more than 40 gallons of water a day, while the oyster reefs help protect the shoreline and act as home base for dozens of aquatic species.

“The reef is a sanctuary,” Carlow said. “They’ll keep on growing and helping to clean the river.”

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