North Charleston residents had a fresh chance Tuesday to express their concerns about a massive rail yard planned on the former Navy base.
The Army Corps of Engineers held a meeting to explain and discuss a year-long study of the proposed $180 million rail yard, which would serve a new container port. A similar meeting was held in November.
The 90-acre rail yard, along with planned port access roads, will directly impact nearby communities such as Chicora-Cherokee, and the trains and trucks will reshape the transportation network across a large section of North Charleston.
Residents who live near the planned rail yard, or near railroad tracks that will carry freight trains up to 10,000 feet long, have many concerns.
"Those trains are going to go right through my backyard," said Chris Engler, who bought a home on Bexley Street at O'Hear Avenue at the end of 2012. The rail line behind his home was unused, at the time.
"This bugs me personally, but to a larger extent I'm worried that it could kill the neighborhood," he said. "I feel like it's going to crush the progress that Park Circle and Olde North Charleston have made."
Engler and others who attended the meeting at Military Magnet Academy had a chance to see plans for the rail yard and roads, and question project managers, but until the study is completed near the end of this year, there won't be answers about the Corps' findings.
In the federally-required environmental impact study, the Corps will examine potential impacts of the rail yard project including noise, air quality, wildlife impacts, and changes that could result in surrounding communities.
Some of the impacts will be quantifiable, such as air quality and noise. Others are more subjective, such as "impacts to community cohesion."
Project manager Nathaniel Ball said the Corps will study the plans presented by state-owned Palmetto Railways, and will consider how the plan stacks up against potential alternatives - one of which would be to not construct the rail yard.
To get to the point of laying out the rail yard plan, Palmetto Railways (then called SC Public Railways) engaged in a long and litigious dispute with the city of North Charleston that was settled in late 2012. The city had attempted to prevent port rail traffic from coming through the north end of the former base and the edge neighborhoods around Park Circle.
The settlement came only after the rail agency secretly purchased the north end of the former Navy Base, which the city had been trying to redevelop with homes and businesses. Then, the city received land, money and the promise of a transportation study in return for dropping its objections.
City Councilman Bob King was at the Corps' meeting Tuesday, and he said he'll continue to fight the plan to route some of the port rail traffic through the community he represents in the Park Circle area. Those are the trains that would use the rails behind Engler's house on Bexley Street, eventually crossing North Rhett Avenue at a crossing where trains already cause long traffic back-ups.
"That's my district, and all my people are opposed to it," King said.
A surface transportation study that will be jointly overseen by the city and Palmetto Railways will also look at the rail and truck traffic issue. That study was part of the 2012 settlement.
For the Corps of Engineers Study, the next big step will be when the draft report is completed, likely in November or December.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552
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