James Blaine Smith, a Black man, was fortunate in purchasing 600 acres of land close to Sparta, Georgia, in 1926. He then started a prosperous farming enterprise.
About a century later, his grandson, his family, and their neighbors are battling to keep that land from being taken over by a railway business that would increase the amount of noise and pollution in the predominantly Black neighborhood where one in three people live below the poverty line.
We are burdened by enough. 64-year-old The Guardian was informed by Janet Smith, the wife of Mark, the grandson of Blaine Smith. Environmental injustice exists here.
The 1,300 people of Sparta already have to deal with the Hanson quarry’s noise and dust.
Kenneth Clayton, a local, told WGXA that the incessant hammering and booming reminded him of Iraq.
Then, as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported, Sandersville Railroad Company started writing letters to Sparta residents in April 2022 informing them that it needed their land to build a spur connecting the main CSX rail tracks to the quarry to ship out the gravel and sand on train cars.
The 4.5-mile spur, according to The Railway, would enable the quarry to raise production by almost 500,000 tons annually and will generate millions of dollars for the local economy in addition to creating 12 permanent, well-paying employment and 20 temporary construction positions.
The Sandersville Railroad is stepping in to help the Hanson quarry in Hancock County enhance output as demands for building and infrastructure repair increase throughout the Southeast, particularly in the coastline region, according to the company website.
The firm, according to The Guardian, intends to pass the spur close to many additional homes and through eight of them to do this. Noise and pollution levels would rise as a result of the increased manufacturing.
There will be no compromise because our neighborhood already functions as a garbage dump, Smith told The Guardian. Due to our poverty and race, they didn’t anticipate us to fight back. But the contempt of it all is all we have to leave our sons—this property.
Residents have resisted the ideas despite several messages to the contrary. The company, in the meantime, claims that if locals refuse to sell, it will turn to Georgia’s eminent domain laws, which date back to the 19th century when expanding railways was the only way to move goods, as the SPLC explained. These laws permit private rail companies to seize property for the public good.
According to railway owner Ben Tarbutton, the proposed route was determined to be the most effective and least disruptive after a land assessment. Although we don’t want to employ eminent domain, we are confident in our ability to do so legally if necessary.
The initiative responds to an urgent demand for reasonably priced raw materials in our state, region, and country to achieve the objectives of President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Hancock County has a chance to significantly gain from the United States’ historic initiative to repair, rebuild, and reinvest in essential roads and bridges.
However, SPLC claimed that it would be difficult for the corporation to demonstrate that the spur was intended for public rather than private usage. There is nothing preventing it from doing so in the interim, and Jessica Lynn Stewart, assistant professor of African American studies at Emory University in Atlanta, claims that this strategy is as American as apple pie.
This narrative seems to be a common one, Stewart told the SPLC. There is typically a dark side to how transportation projects are pursued in the name of economic progress, and typically that dark side has to do with the exploitation of underprivileged people, starting with the construction of railroads in the 19th century and later with highways in the 20th. It is an American custom to evict people of color in the name of economic growth.