Charleston port officials say they need to expand rail access to a new port facility in order to remain competitive, but their plans are leading to a local outcry. Legislators will hear those complaints Friday in North Charleston.
The South Carolina Department of Commerce plans to build a railyard to serve a new port in North Charleston, but the plan may involve routing trains through residential neighborhoods north of the port. The area is higher-end development, and city officials fear it will cut into their tax base by affecting property values.
It has drawn a lot of local opposition, and legislators hope to hear alternative proposals Friday night. The commission that oversees the State Ports Authority will hold a 5:00 pm hearing in Holiday Inn Airport Convention Center.
Sen. Phil Shoopman (R-Greenville) said the commission wants to hear from those who will be affected.
There’s no question it’s going to impact the community down there. But the question is, how can we minimize that impact and also ensure a ports operation that continues to provide the… economic stimulus to this state.
Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Oconee) says he also plans to listen to any altenatives, but wants residents to realize that a second rail line has to be built.
I’m not advocating stepping on anybody’s toes, but this is truly one of the largest economic development engines that we have. We want to do everything possible to maximize its effectiveness.
Complicating the issue is a 2002 agreement the State Ports Authority made with the city of North Charleston that it would not route trains north of the port. However, the proposed railyard property is owned by S.C. Public Railways– a separate agency in the Commerce Department. The current Commerce Department plan would require breaking that promise.
State officials say expanding the rail lines is critical if the port wants to serve new, larger cargo ships that will begin arriving on the East Coast in the coming years. Official say it is almost as important to the port’s infrastructure as a harbor dredging project that is currently held up.
Shoopman said the final plan would probably involve two rail lines, believing it was too important for the port’s future to not include them. However, he emphasized that there is no set plan at the moment.
We’re going down right into North Charleston Friday to talk with the people. Clearly, had decisions been made, you could say, “Why are you still seeking input?” Well, they haven’t been made. In my mind, we’re going down there to listen.
North Charleston officials have filed a lawsuit against the Commerce Department, saying the agency violated the 2002 memorandum of understanding between the two groups.