Some North Charleston residents complain about port rail deal
If North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey is correct that a good mediated settlement leaves no one happy, then plenty of city residents must think the port rail deal resulted from good mediation.
In neighborhoods and at a City Hall meeting Wednesday, a number of residents expressed displeasure with the settlement between the city and state.
The agreement ends years of fighting and a number of lawsuits, and clears the way for a new rail yard on the former Navy base. That will mean freight trains rolling through communities north and south of the base, when the rail yard and a new port terminal open years from now.
Summey and other city officials fought the state’s plans partially out of concern that northbound trains would impact neighborhoods around Park Cirle that have been redeveloping.
Bryan Cordell, who lives in that area on Hope Circle, told the mayor and other officials Wednesday that he and his neighbors remain worried, despite the settlement. He said residents should play a role in the major study of rail and truck traffic that will be conducted as part of the settlement.
“We are deeply concerned about the level of impact on our community,” Cordell said, noting that some trains will run right across marshfront views from the neighborhood.
Dale Armstrong, of Durant Street, said the freight trains that already come through the area rattle her house.
“It’s not just the noise,” she said. “The sofa vibrates, the china rattles.”
To the south, in the Chicora neighborhood abutting the former base where the rail yard will be constructed, Maxine Syas said more train noise is the last thing the community needs.
Syas, 61, said she is occasionally awakened by train noise as freight rolls along an existing line nearly a half mile southwest of her home. The planned rail yard would be just blocks away.
“That’s going to be noise,” she said. “We don’t want that, we want our neighborhood quiet.”
Janice Gladden, Syas’ sister who lives on the other side of Orvid Street, had mixed feelings about the new rail yard, which is associated with development of a port terminal on the base property.
“Hopefully it will bring money and jobs,” she said. “I hope it brings the neighborhood back to standards.”
She also expressed concern about pollution, and suggested that the city should offer to buy the homes of residents who may be impacted by the rail and truck traffic.
Summey and other city officials have pointed out that without rail, every shipping container coming into the port would have to leave by truck. The fight between the city and state was not about whether to have a rail yard, but where it would go.
The city did not want northbound rail traffic flowing from the base, but agreed after extracting concessions from the state that include $14.6 million in cash and debt assumption, and about 100 acres of land along the waterfront at the north end of the former base.
The state also agreed to route freight trains around the properties the city is getting, rather than through them.
The new rail yard will be on land the city had given to Clemson University, which planned to build a research campus there. Community arts organizations currently use some of the buildings for studio and performance space.
The university will look elsewhere in the city for a research campus site, and Summey said the city will work on finding space for arts organizations.
The mayor also said he is working with CSX railroad on an agreement to shut down a rail line that currently runs freight through Park Circle neighborhoods, sometimes blocking traffic.
“Sometimes the customers come in and say they’re waiting to meet somebody, and I guess they’re caught by a train,” said Rob Potter, manager of Johnny’s Olde Village Grill & Spirits on Montague Avenue. “Sometimes they have to eventually get up and leave.”
He said the growing retail scene on the strip is being thwarted by the train woes.
“It’s growing here and you’re attracting folks, but all it takes is to get caught behind a train a few times and then they realize it’s not worth it,” he said.
The best ways to address rail traffic, which could include overpasses taking busy roads over rail lines, will be considered as part of a transportation study that could be finished next year.
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC. Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.