While visiting North Charleston to talk about her tax relief plan last Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley said Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt was still working to hash out an agreement with the City of North Charleston about the location of controversial new rail lines on the Navy Yard.
"Well, I keep yelling at Bobby Hitt and telling him I want it done yesterday," Haley said. "From what I understand, he and Mayor [Keith] Summey have continued to have talks. I think we're getting closer to a resolution. You know what it comes down to is where the rail yard's going to go. The bottom line is I want a solution, and I want it now. The more we wait, the longer it hurts us. The sooner we get going, the better off we're going to be."
Sound familiar? That's because the last time the City Paper tracked the governor down to ask her about North Charleston's lawsuit to keep the state from laying rails where it promised not to, she said essentially the same thing.
"Everything I've heard is that they're positive and they're strong," Haley said then of the negotiations. When asked what time frame she had in mind for reaching an agreement, she said, "I told Bobby Hitt I wanted it done yesterday." That was Sept. 2.
Development in the area of the Navy Yard has been in limbo since August, when the City of North Charleston sued to keep state agencies from laying new rail lines on the northern end of the shuttered military base. Back in 2002, in exchange for North Charleston's agreement to allow a new port terminal to be built on the Navy Yard (rather than on Daniel Island, as had originally been planned), the State Ports Authority signed a memorandum of understanding promising that any new rail lines would be routed through the southern end of the Navy Yard. The lawsuit is meant to prevent the state from violating that promise, although there is some debate as to whether the Department of Public Railways should be held to the terms of a memorandum signed by the SPA.
The northern end of the Navy Yard borders Park Circle, a neighborhood that has seen a resurgence in recent years as businesses have populated the newly renovated Old Village downtown area and young professionals have moved into the modestly priced WWII-era homes. It is also the neighborhood where Summey lives. Under the state's current plan, new train traffic would cross over North Rhett Avenue near I-526, backing up traffic at a busy interchange for commuters going to and from Park Circle.
A spokesperson for Hitt said the Department of Commerce was still working on an agreement this week. "We are continuing to have discussions with the City of North Charleston to resolve the litigation," the spokesperson said.
Summey says he last spoke with Hitt over a month ago at a mediated conversation in North Charleston with Hitt and representatives from the Department of Public Railways. "Quite honestly, the lawyers on both sides did most of the talking, putting the daggers out on the table about what you've got, what we've got," Summey says. Hitt told Summey he would be in touch, but Summey says he hasn't heard a peep from the Department of Commerce since.
"We laid out our issues and they laid out their issues for consideration, and now we're waiting on them to take the initiative," Summey says.
A possible explanation for the holdup: Hitt is currently recovering from what his office described as a successful orthopedic procedure on his hip earlier in the week. The commerce secretary was previously hospitalized in December for treatment of a near-fatal staphylococcus infection. The guy can't catch a break, and he's had the governor yelling at him for six months now.