Coal terminal draws attention
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey is urging state regulators to closely examine a proposal that would quadruple the capacity of a coal terminal on the Cooper River, saying the expansion could harm the environment, jeopardize public health and create traffic problems.
In a letter to the Department of Health and Environmental Control dated April 30, Summey requested that the agency withhold an air-quality permit for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners until it conducts extra pollution tests and addresses concerns about increased train crossings.
Kinder Morgan, a Houston-based energy giant, operates a 208-acre shipping facility on the Cooper River, where it off-loads coal, cement and other commodities.
Some boat owners and employees at the nearby Cooper River Marina have complained that coal dust and other tiny loose particles are being carried by air from the Kinder Morgan site to other properties.
Summey said he's concerned about the air quality and its impact on health around the terminal, as well as in neighborhoods near the rail lines that haul coal from Kinder Morgan in uncovered train cars. He also said he wants to make sure that the agency is capable of monitoring "fugitive" coal particles.
"We want to know if the dust is causing issues within the community," Summey said in an interview.
Dean McInnis, Kinder Morgan's director of business development, declined to comment on Summey's letter or the company's expansion plans.
At a public hearing in April, McInnis defended the Charleston site's environmental standards. He cited a study that showed the terminal operates within acceptable federal limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
That didn't satisfy some company skeptics, who said the study was not done independently.
But a separate analysis that Kinder Morgan conducted passed national air-quality tests, said Rhonda Thompson, engineering services division director for DHEC's Air Quality Bureau.
Kinder Morgan announced plans in 2005 to invest an undisclosed amount of money into its Milford Street property, which is just south of the North Charleston city line. The company is proposing dozens of renovations, including the construction of a new private shipping terminal.
The expansion would allow the Cooper River facility to handle more than 10 million tons of coal each year, or roughly four times the amount it now transfers from ship to rail. The company has said it needs to grow to satisfy demand for imported coal from electric utilities.
The project would make the Charleston terminal one of the largest of its kind on the East Coast.
But it also would require the use of more trains, raising another concern for North Charleston.
Summey said he worries that the increase in rail crossings — to an average of five a day from two — would block public roads for longer periods and could interfere with ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Thompson said DHEC normally does not consider traffic concerns when evaluating permit requests.
DHEC plans to respond to Summey's letter after May 24, when the public comment period for the Kinder Morgan expansion closes, said agency spokeswoman Donna Moye.
The comment period originally was to end April 24, but regulators extended it after North Charleston said the city didn't receive proper notification about the company's permit request. Since then, the state has received about a dozen letters from concerned citizens and groups, Moye said.