Summey on railroad: 'Never had the decency to talk to us'

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey

WADE SPEES

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said it's urgent the city move forward on its own railroad plan because the state and just about everyone else with a stake in the new port terminal is dragging their feet or will never act in the city's interests.

"If we sit back and wait on others to make the first move, then we are going to get caught with our pants down," Summey said at a public hearing today.

He also had harsh comments for leaders of the Norfolk Southern Corp., saying they have never been receptive to North Charleston's needs when it comes to train routing discussions, while competitor CSX Transportation has finally decided to partner with the city.

"Norfolk Southern has never had the decency to visit City Hall," Summey told a room of about 80 people. "Norfolk Southern has never had the decency to talk to us."

Summey's comments came as about 10 people rose to speak on the merits of the plan. Several residents from the southern part of the city said they feared bearing the brunt of the rail rerouting Summey wants to help serve the State Ports Authority terminal being built at the former Naval Base and Shipyard.

Rahim Karriena, president of the neighborhood coalition group Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, spoke for several when he suggested the process be slowed down until residents can be better informed on the scope and effects. Others said the rerouting will affect property values, potentially weaken house foundations and questioned if fire and rescue services will be delayed.

Summey said the proposal could not be put off any longer because the city is on an late-August deadline to apply for a $3 million planning grant from the federal Department of Transportation.

The hearing was held in connection to a memorandum of understanding and agreement between the city of North Charleston, CSX and Shipyard Creek Associates LLC. Their plan calls for closing about 3.2 miles of current CSX track that bisects several neighborhoods, while at the same time creating half a mile of new track and rebuilding another half a mile of track that had been left mostly dormant.

Supporters contend it will join previously divided neighborhoods and protect the city from heavy rail track being rekindled in through neighborhoods in the city's north. Opponents say the plan favors CSX over competitor Norfolk Southern in making rail access to the new port equally available -- an issue they say is imperative in keeping prices down and in making the port competitive on the Eastern seaboard.

Several of those present spoke in support of the mayor's plan, including homeowners, business professionals and representatives of the Historic Charleston Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or skropf@postandcourier.com.