State wants rail suit dismissed

The SPA Port Terminal on the south end of the former Navy Base in North Charleston.

In the latest legal turn involving the North Charleston rail-line dispute, several branches of the state government have renewed their attempts to have the city's lawsuit dismissed.

North Charleston is seeking to block the state's plan to provide rail service to a new container port on the former Navy base from the north end of the property, where rail lines run through neighborhoods the city is working to redevelop. The city favors a southern rail approach, and says the state agreed to that in a 2002 deal signed by the city and State Ports Authority.

The state's "dual access" plan is meant to assure that Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads would each have competitive access to the new port terminal. North Charleston's position is that the rail companies can each have adequate access without disrupting the city's redevelopment plans.

The S.C. Department of Commerce and its Division of Public Railways filed a request Thursday asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing primarily that North Charleston's suit against the department and its officials is "barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity" under 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a document in support of Commerce's request on behalf of the state, which is also named as a defendant along with the State Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The state and the Commerce Department previously asked to dismiss North Charleston's lawsuit, in November. They filed new requests because North Charleston amended its complaint.

If the case is not dismissed and no compromise is reached, the dispute could go to trial this fall.

Derk Van Raalte, an attorney representing North Charleston, said the requests to dismiss allow the defendants to postpone answering the city's complaint until a judge rules on them. "It is a completely routine move if you're on the defense side," Van Raalte said. "I would say the city is not concerned about them."

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.