By Schuyler Kropf
The Post and Courier
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey next week will talk to the Department of Commerce for the first time in months about rail issues in the city — a chance for both sides to thaw an ice-cold relationship over rail line to a new State Ports Authority terminal.
Commerce’s position that the new terminal at the southern end of the former Charleston Naval Base have dual access for both major rail providers in the area — CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern railroad — has been a major point of contention recently.
But with the city of North Charleston moving ahead on its own rail-routing plan cooperatively with CSX and a local developer, Summey said it is time to make contact with Commerce Department Secretary Joe Taylor about rekindling a dialogue.
“We called them,” Summey said Thursday night just before City Council voted to support a memorandum of understanding on rail routing with CSX and developer Shipyard Creek Associates. “We just thought it was important we go up there and tell them what our plan is.”
Beyond their icy rail rift, Summey said the city and Commerce officials have gotten along fine, including on the long-term effort to land the Boeing airplane expansion. The meeting is set for Wednesday.
Summey’s announcement came as council also approved seeking $3 million in federal planning money to help with the rail project. The money would come as a federal Department of Transportation grant, with a $600,000 match coming from CSX and Shipyard Creek.
The memorandum approved Thursday, supporters say, is a major defense of the city’s growth pattern and is designed to prevent rail lines to the new port coming from the north end of the city — a route city officials say would destroy years of neighborhood development.
Instead, the city wants to reconnect neighborhoods through three other moves: closing a little more than three miles of current CSX track through neighborhoods, creating a half mile of new track and rebuilding another half mile of mostly dormant track.
The agreement would help toward redevelopment of CSX’s Cooper Yard and Shipyard Creek’s Macalloy property into an intermodal rail facility and warehousing space capable of serving the new port terminal under construction at the former Navy base. Proponents also say it removes at least 20 rail crossings that stall traffic, while protecting Clemson University’s property at the former base for wind turbine research. The cost of the plan could run at least $100 million to cover land acquisition and rerouting.
Opponents, meanwhile, contend it has a major flaw: Norfolk Southern Corp. would be denied direct rail access to the new terminal, something they want to ensure competition.
Summey on Thursday night said he was still committed to his plan and remains willing to talk with Norfolk Southern as well. “We’re not going to let you come through the north end of the Naval Base, but we’ll work with you,” he said.