Judge dismisses Norfolk Southern lawsuit challenging stormwater utility fee

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) A federal judge has ruled against Norfolk Southern in the company's lawsuit over Roanoke's stormwater utility fee.

The railroad argued the charge is actually a tax that discriminates against the railroad, but the judge disagreed.

At issue were several hundred acres of what Norfolk Southern describes as "ballasted railroad property," rail beds that are covered with stone. The railroad also argued that those areas should be treated in the same way as lawns, and should be exempt from the fee.

Wednesday afternoon, the city of Roanoke released the following statement:

"The City of Roanoke is pleased with decision of the United State District court to dismiss the challenge brought by Norfolk Southern Railway Company to the stormwater utility fee established by the City in 2014. The court analyzed whether the stormwater utility charge was a tax or a fee because, if this charge was a fee, the federal court would not have jurisdiction to hear this matter.

In its analysis, the Court carefully reviewed the process by which the City established its stormwater utility and the charges and concluded that the utility charge was, in fact, a fee for stormwater management services provided by the City. The City has worked hard to operate the stormwater utility to provide needed and valuable services to properties in the City.

The City’s stormwater utility allows property owners to seek credits to reduce their stormwater utility charges. The City’s Stormwater Utility Division will continue to work with residents and businesses in finding opportunities for credits whenever possible."

It's unclear if the railroad will appeal the decision.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said the company is reviewing the decision and weighing its options.