A massive new railyard planned next to the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood has spurred some residents to organize a march in hopes of mobilizing the North Charleston community.
The project would demolish Sterett Hall on the old Navy base, which serves as a cultural hub, gym and entertainment facility for the struggling area.
"There should be some mitigation to help out with that. There's no other recreation facility in that community," said City Councilman Michael Brown, whose district includes the neighborhood.
Chicora-Cherokee has only one outdoor basketball court, he said.
The neighborhood has many boarded-up homes and a shuttered school. But there are signs of new life in the form of a colorful community garden and playground.
On Success Street, the Rev. Bill Stanfield and his faith-based community organization Metanoia are working to get the word out about the railyard and its potential impacts. The group has issued "talking points" on what the Palmetto Railways project could mean. They include worries about lost property values and destruction of Sterett Hall as well as air, water, noise and light pollution.
As part of that effort, Metanoia plans to hold a protest march at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday from Mary Ford Elementary School to Sterett Hall.
The $180 million intermodal project will allow shipping containers to be transferred between trucks and trains. It coincides with the State Ports Authority's plans to build a new container port nearby. Both projects are anticipated to be completed by 2018.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement on the railyard that is evaluating a wide range of issues including environmental, economic and social justice concerns, said Nat Ball, Corps project manager.
Meetings with the community were held last fall and in May. A first draft of the study will be completed in December, when another public hearing will be scheduled, Ball said.
The Corps has also met with Metanoia, the City of North Charleston, the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities and other groups, he said.
"We've been working with Bill (Stanfield) from the beginning and are very aware of their concerns," Ball said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is involved in the study, he said.
Some Chicora-Cherokee homes are as close as 50 feet to the boundary of the proposed railyard, Stanfield said.
"Low-income communities have historically borne the brunt of industry," he said.
Creating more of a buffer between the community and the railyard by purchasing property might be an option. An earthen berm to absorb noise and vibration from the shipping operation could help, he said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is assisting with the effort on behalf of Chicora-Cherokee.
"We're working on multiple fronts," Stanfield said.
Among the concerns being raised by Metanoia is whether home owners will receive compensation for lost property values. Water pollution is another because the railyard will be built on top of a tidal basin that includes community marshlands. And there is the potential for air pollution from burned diesel fuel, according to the organization.
Metanoia also asks about potential economic benefits for nearby residents from the railyard construction.
"We don't want it but we're pretty sure it's going to happen. How can we create new opportunities in here?" Stanfield said.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711
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