North Charleston approves port rail deal
North Charleston has approved a deal that settles a contentious dispute with the state government over freight rail access to a new container port planned on the former Navy base.
City Council approved the deal shortly before 6 p.m. on a 9-1 vote with Bobby Jameson opposed.
Council member Dorothy Williams was absent.
The state will largely get what it wanted — a rail yard on the base on property now owned by Clemson University, with rail access to the property from the north and south, plus some city-owned properties associated with that plan.
The city will get more than 100 acres of state-owned land at the north end of the former base, including historic properties there, plus $8 million in cash paid over four years, and the state will take over $6.5 million in debt related to prior redevelopment efforts.
The city fought the state’s port rail plan for years, largely out of concern that the plan would squash budding redevelopment efforts both on and off the former base. The dispute got heated after some of the Noisette redevelopment property on the base was foreclosed upon in 2009, and then acquired by the state.
The planned rail yard will send some freight north along Spruill and Virginia avenues, skirting the Olde North Charleston and Park Circle neighborhoods, but the line will go around the historic north end of the base, which the city hopes to redevelop.
Several lawsuits related to the port rail dispute will be dropped as part of the settlement.
City Council’s approval of the plan had been anticipated. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Gov. Nikki Haley, and state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt this morning scheduled a joint news conference immediately following the council meeting to talk about the deal — an unlikely move if approval wasn’t assured.
The State Budget and Control Board has scheduled a meeting Wednesday morning to vote on land transfers and other transactions related to the settlement. The state will pay $250,000 of legal expenses incurred by the city, and half of any amount beyond that, under the deal.
The long and costly dispute over the path freight trains will take to serve a new North Charleston container port has been grinding on for several years. The state insisted throughout the conflict that railroad companies Norfolk Southern and CSX must each have direct access to the new port and its container traffic, in order to assure competitive prices for shippers.
The city has been pushing a plan to build the rail yard near the base, with rail access only from the south, and objected to the state’s plan to use the Clemson University property.
In the Park Circle area north of the base, some residents had protested the state’s plan, while in the Chicora-Cherokee area to the south, some residents had protested the city’s plan.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.