South Carolina rail officials hope to learn later this summer whether they will receive an environmental permit for a 130-acre cargo terminal under construction at a former Navy base in North Charleston.
Palmetto Railways leaders say the approval is critical for federal financing to cover the $291 million cost for the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility. The agency said the facility will handle growing rail needs at the Port of Charleston, especially as the new Leatherman Terminal is projected to open nearby in 2019 and the harbor is deepened to handle new, larger container ships. Once complete, the yard is anticipated to handle more than 1.1 million containers annually.
“It’s part of the major infrastructure development in the area,” Palmetto Railways Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer Patrick McCrory said. “Between the new container terminal for the port, the harbor deepening… this is a new rail head for capacity growth.”
The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project located at the southern end of the former Charleston Navy Base. A draft statement indicated roughly 14 acres of wetlands or Critical Area would be impacted by construction. A Corps spokesman indicated the final report is expected “by the end of the summer,” after which the agency will make a decision on the facility.
McCrory said Palmetto Railways needs the approval to receive loan financing from the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program provides direct loans and guarantees for rail infrastructure. It would mark the first time Palmetto Railways has used the program. But McCrory said the RRIF financing requires a Corps of Engineers permit to proceed.
Also in the works is a $220 million Port Access Road which will connect the rail yard and Leatherman Terminal with Interstate 26 when complete. The Ports Authority still plans to rely on both truck and rail traffic once the terminal opens.
“It will take a certain amount of local trucks off the road, but there’s still a need of trucks having to transfer in a local area,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “And the majority of container volume that moves through the Port of Charleston is distributed by trucks.”
Rail officials are negotiating with preservationists over concerns the new development will demolish nine historic structures and impact some two dozen more. The impact is centered around a former Navy hospital which operated at the site from World War I until the early 1970s. The oldest structure in the district is 100 years old, according to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Under its current plan, the rail yard would be located between Hobson Avenue and North Carolina Avenue on the former base. Also nearby is the H.L. Hunley Submarine Museum, which is working to restore the famous Confederate vessel. The museum is located off the property, however.
Palmetto Railways is a state-owned agency which operates as part of the Department of Commerce. It primarily serves cargo traffic around the Port of Charleston and several industries in the Lowcountry