Agency approves rail agreement between N. Charleston, state

COLUMBIA — A state panel Wednesday approved the rail settlement between the city of North Charleston and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

The approval from the state Budget and Control Board clears the land swap at the former Navy base, along with $8 million in payments over four years to the city from Commerce’s Division of Public Railways.

Gov. Nikki Haley said the resulting rail yard project is a major business recruitment tool that she already has highlighted in talks with some business prospects.

“Long after we’re gone, there will be tremendous rewards,” said Haley, a member of the budget board.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the state anticipates the permitting process, the first stage of the project, will take 20 months.

Most of those permits will come from the federal government, he said.

Hitt said one of the major beneficiaries of the rail system will be the state’s booming tire-production industry.

State Treasurer Curtis Loftis told board members that he wants to hear frequent updates on all payments made by the state as part of the project.

The bigger the project, the less oversight there generally is, he said.

Hitt said the Commerce Department will be back before the board to provide updates on the rail project.

Hitt said he is in discussions with Clemson University about its role in the project, and will meet with university officials in the coming weeks to hear about the university’s “wish list.”

That list could include a laboratory or classroom facility, he said.

Clemson’s Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility is under construction on the former Navy base site.

The university will be looking for a new location in North Charleston to locate its research campus.

A Clemson spokeswoman said the rail settlement will not impact university projects that are already under way, including the drivetrain facility, development of the grid simulator, research at the Clemson Conservation Center and planning for the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

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