A nearly century-old cluster of tall fuel tanks are coming down at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

Demolition of the massive metal, concrete and brick structures starts this week, one of the largest developments in the plans to redevelop the shuttered base and transform part of it into the new intermodal rail yard.

"The tank demolition is something that needs to occur and it shows some progression with respect of the redevelopment of that tract of property," said Jeff McWhorter, president and CEO of Palmetto Railways.

"They're somewhat iconic because they've been around since the '20s and '30s, but it will go a long way in cleaning up of the old Navy base."

Palmetto Railways, a division of the S.C. Department of Commerce, plans to build a 90-acre yard, known as the Navy Base Intermodal Facility. The $180 million project will allow shipping containers to be transferred between trucks and trains. The project coincides with the State Ports Authority's plans to build a new container port nearby. Both projects are anticipated to be completed by 2018.

The eight tanks at the Navy base were used to store fuel and water, but have not been used in decades, officials said.

One tank on the base was the scene of a fire in October 1985.

George W. Cherry, 29, a flying instructor who was wanted for military desertion and for the murder of his wife, died when the twin-engine plane he was flying crashed into the side of an empty fuel tank. Officials have said the damaged tank was later demolished.

The demolition of the eight tanks on the property will take up to three months and include equipment that includes an excavator with a metal sheer cutter, according to the Railways' Tarek Ravenel.

The demolition process also includes assistance from the Navy and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, he said.

Ravenel said the tanks are just the start of the plans to demolish dozens of structures for the construction of the new facility.

"There's about 40 structures that are on site that will need to be demolished and we are currently doing the due diligence to get those demolished," Ravenel said.

Environmental groups are assessing the lead and asbestos for the other demolitions.

Plans for Palmetto Railways' intermodal facility are before the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal agency is preparing a major study that will assess the economic, environmental and social consequences.

The Army Corps is scheduled to hold a second public meeting Tuesday to discuss Palmetto Railways' proposed facility. The community forum will take place from 6-8 p.m. at the Military Magnet Academy in North Charleston.

Participants will include representatives from the Army Corps, Palmetto Railways and a private consultant working on the study.

Palmetto Railways' intermodal project faced some legal setbacks when some North Charleston residents opposed the idea of more freight trains coming near their homes.

A resolution with the city was reached in 2012, requiring the agency to give the city $8 million and more than 100 acres of the waterfront land at the north end of the former base around Riverfront Park.

Palmetto Railways also agreed to complete the major transportation study aimed at improving the flow of rail and truck traffic in the city.

Last year, Palmetto Railways paid $10 million for the remaining 50 acres of what was known as the Noisette property on the former Navy base.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.