The state has landed a $248,934 federal grant to help realign a short stretch of train tracks on the old Navy base, but a defiant city of North Charleston is standing firm between the rails.
The money is to go to S.C. Public Railways to fix a curve in the line that has caused derailments and limits cargo.
"We're very excited about it," said Jeff McWhorter, president and chief executive officer of S.C. Public Railways, a division of the state Department of Commerce.
The snag is that the project requires a permit from North Charleston, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with S.C. Public Railways over the use of other tracks that serve the former base.
"There are a number of folks from whom SCPR would need to secure consent for the project to proceed and, to date, the city has yet to see a meeting of the minds emerge that would permit the project to move forward," said Ray Anderson, senior assistant to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
McWhorter said Friday that the realignment is unrelated to the state's proposal to provide access for rivals CSX and Norfolk Southern to the former base so they both can serve a new port terminal being built at the south end of the property.
The "dual access" issue is the focus of a federal lawsuit filed by North Charleston, which opposes the state's plan to bring trains in and out at the north end of the property. The city said that would harm redevelopment in nearby neighborhoods and that the plan violates a written agreement it has with the State Ports Authority.
McWhorter said straightening the double curve, from North Hobson Avenue to Noisette Boulevard, is vital for bringing large equipment to the wind turbine drivetrain testing facility under construction at Clemson University's Restoration Institute on the old base. It also would benefit other existing customers.
Public Railways is "ready to break ground" on the realignment, "and we've been awaiting some permitting from North Charleston that has been pending for some time now," McWhorter said.
"I believe it's not being issued because they believe it's part of the bigger picture," he said.
Anderson did not disagree.
"The rail issue surrounding the base is an important issue for the people of North Charleston, Clemson and others," he said. "But 'rail done right' is the only acceptable option."
Anderson added, "Rail done right means looking comprehensively at the needs and obstacles in order to find solutions that work for the entire base and the community for the long term, rather than just short-term Band-Aids for isolated parties in isolated locations."
The total rail realignment cost is pegged at $535,000.
Clemson would like to see the project completed because it won't be practical to use trucks to transport the large, heavy equipment that will come to the wind-turbine testing center, said Peter Hull, communications director at the university's Restoration Institute.
"Any improvements to the Navy base infrastructure will have a positive effect to Clemson's project, and other industries and entities that operate on or nearby the base," Hull said.
The Public Railways grant was among a dozen totaling nearly $17 million that the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday.
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