As the State Ports Authority announces multimillion-dollar deals to build its new container terminal at the former Navy base, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey wants federal regulators to halt the long-delayed project.
Summey is fuming over a proposal by two state lawmakers who want to use a rail line that runs through the north end of the former military property to make the new port more attractive to shippers.
The mayor said that would violate a written agreement between the SPA and the city.
In a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week, Summey said an environmental impact study submitted to the federal agency as part of the approval process did not include any new or improved rail facilities. The study said all cargo would enter or leave the site by truck.
As a result of that omission, he said, the SPA is not in compliance with the terms of its construction permit.
The controversy heated up after a new state rail study suggested the Navy base terminal have train service nearby and proposed several sites.
Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, and
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, want to transfer the existing rail line and right of way at the north end of the base to a state-run railway operator.
That exchange would increase the likelihood that the region's two major rail carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, can serve the base area, including future port customers.
But it also would increase train traffic from the north. Summey said that would be detrimental to the revitalization efforts under way in that section of the city. It also would be a breach of the SPA's deal with the city, he said.
"I just want the Army Corps to understand that we believe, according to the information about legislation being proposed, that they plan on violating the agreement," Summey said Tuesday. "We need some clarification before we move forward."
He said that means stalling construction, if necessary, and he previously has threatened to file a lawsuit.
In his letter to the Corps, Summey requested a new environmental impact study, a process that can be costly and time consuming.
Merrill said Summey's position sets him up for a legacy as "the guy who keeps the port from expanding and hurting the state economy."
"It seems like it certainly is pretty shortsighted by the mayor," Merrill said. "I think there are numerous flaws in his argument. As both he indicated and I indicated, we should all sit down and talk about that."
Grooms said he, like Summey, prefers rail not run from the north but sees no alternative that would allow access for both major railroad lines.
"Right now the only option available for our port to have dual rail access is to have that northern route out of the base," Grooms said.
SPA Public Relations Director Byron Miller said the agency "was not involved in drafting, developing, sponsoring or encouraging in any way the amendment" and that the state rail study does not extend onto the terminal.
He added that the SPA has no plans to stop further port construction.
"The ports authority has nothing to do with this," he said. "It's certainly a matter between two other parties."