Lowcountry Orphan Relief and Palmetto Railways at odds over proposed rail line 

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click to enlarge Lowcountry Orphan Relief and Palmetto Railways have yet to come to an agreement regarding the effects of the proposed rail line in North Charleston - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Lowcountry Orphan Relief and Palmetto Railways have yet to come to an agreement regarding the effects of the proposed rail line in North Charleston
North Charleston residents have been outspoken about their concerns over a proposed rail line running through the Naval Hospital Historic District, but one local nonprofit says the new plan could be detrimental to its future.

In September, Palmetto Railways released a revised plan for tracks leading to the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, which is set for completion in 2020. The new route, which would run through the Naval Hospital Historic District and extend south for about a mile to a rail right-of-way near the intersection of Meeting and Milford streets, drew concern from residents of Park Circle and the Navy Yard regarding the close proximity of the rail line to nearby homes and businesses.

According to Lowcountry Orphan Relief, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the tri-county area, the proposed tracks would run within 80 feet of its offices in North Charleston. In addition to the possibility of increased noise levels and safety concerns surrounding train activity, representatives from Lowcountry Orphan Relief say that the rail line would have a major impact on the organization’s property value.

“It’s supposed to be 79 feet from our door. That’s pretty close and trains will go through two to three times per day. We will have to contend with harmful emission, plus it will reduce our property value by 45 percent,” says Regina Sharpe, executive director for Lowcountry Orphan Relief. “That’s a huge impact on us because we raised the money and we own our buildings. The funds that we went out and generated and raised have gone into making sure that we don’t have a mortgage. Now the value of the property will not be where it should be.”

The nonprofit is asking that Palmetto Railways either reconsider the location of the rail line or make efforts to mitigate the effects it will have on their property. Solutions suggested by Lowcountry Orphan Relief include rerouting the tracks 300 to 400 feet away from their offices, installing a sound barrier, offering the nonprofit compensation for the purchase of new land, or providing Lowcountry Orphan Relief with land and buildings equal to or greater than the value of its existing facilities for relocation.

Palmetto Railways President Jeffrey McWhorter says that the state Department of Commerce has made offers in the past to acquire Lowcountry Orphan Relief’s existing property so that the nonprofit can relocate away from the proposed rail line. In a letter from 2014 provided by McWhorter, Lowcountry Orphan Relief founder Lynne Young offers to allow a buyout of the property for $1 million, which she says is the amount at which it was appraised. State Secretary of Commerce Robert Hitt wrote back to Young, saying that the $1 million appraisal did not seem consistent with fair market value of the property, which he had appraised closer to almost half that amount. In Hitt’s letter dated Aug. 27, 2014, he says Palmetto Railways is prepared to offer Lowcountry Orphan Relief $575,000 for their property. McWhorter says that his office never received a response to the offer, which still stands.

“We’re not trying to target Mrs. Young or Lowcountry Orphan Relief,” says McWhorter. “If she’s not OK with that offer, she should let us know and make a counter offer.”

Lowcountry Orphan Relief has asked supporters to sign a petition and send letters to Palmetto Railways and the state Department of Commerce regarding the nonprofit’s complaints. According to the petition, Lowcountry Orphan Relief’s main hub provides resources to agencies and children in Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley counties. The organization claims that the proposed railway would negatively affect the volunteers and staff that visit its North Charleston facility on a daily basis, as well as Mountain Creek Contractors, which rents space from the nonprofit.

“As far as we’ve seen with the protesting against the rail line, nothing’s happening. We’re trying to get a petition signed,” says Sharpe.

McWhorter has received signed copies of the petition, but says that concerned parties should simply request a meeting with himself and Hitt or submit their comments to the Army Corps of Engineers. According to McWhorter, the final design for the rail project is about 60 percent complete, and it has continued to evolve throughout the process. Once the plan is finalized, the Army Corps can complete their environmental impact study, which is the definitive indicator of how this project affects the surrounding communities. Palmetto Railways expects the Corps of Engineers to complete its study of the proposed plan and submit the first draft of its environmental impact study in April.

“Once we have all the data, we will know how to mitigate the effects of the project,” says McWhorter. “I don’t think this is unlike what any other city sees. ... We like to think at the end of the day it’s something that will have a positive impact on these communities.”

It’s uncertain where exactly the rail line and surrounding buffer zone will end up. Only time and the Army Corps of Engineers will tell, but as for Lowcountry Orphan Relief, they hope to remain at their current spot.

“This is a good location for us because a majority of the children that we help are here in Charleston County. This is a perfect location for us to be able to serve the children and have agencies come to us to pick up orders from us,” says Sharpe. “It’s a centralized location for us to be able to meet the needs of the children, and we do serve about 3,000 children a year in the tri-county area."


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