Marchers make noise to draw attention to railyard project's effects

Armed with signs and noise makers, students with the Freedom School march to call attention to the new railyard to be built next to the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood Wednesday in North Charleston.

Dozens of elementary and middle-school students blew whistles, banged pots and pans and shook tambourines as they marched along steamy Reynolds Avenue in North Charleston on Wednesday.

The group was out to draw attention to the massive railyard planned next to the low-income Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood.

"If you think this is loud, wait until the railyard comes," a banner carried by one of the Freedom School's students read.

"Rest in peace, Sterett Hall," was the message on a mock casket.

The hall, located on the old Navy Base, has a date with the wrecking ball because of the project. Sterett is considered the best place in Chicora-Cherokee for recreation because of its big gym, weight room and spaces for cultural entertainment.

"I fear for all the young children in my neighborhood who will be losing something so positive in this community," said Tommie Middleton, a Columbia College student whose mother lives on Success Street, a stone's throw from the coming yard.

In addition to the loss of Sterett Hall, neighborhood residents are weary of around-the-clock noise and the late-night glare of stadium-style lights. They fear ground vibrations from the railyard will harm house foundations. Water and air pollution also are concerns.

About 100 students from the neighborhood-based Metanoia Freedom School participated in the march.

Chicora-Cherokee 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.

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.

Creating more of a buffer between the community and the yard by purchasing property might be an option. An earthen berm to absorb noise and vibration from the shipping operation could help, some say.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is assisting with the effort on behalf of Chicora-Cherokee.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711