On Monday night, state Rep. David Mack (D-North Charleston) held a forum in order to convince residents of the Union Heights and Chicora-Cherokee neighborhoods to support the Commerce Department's controversial rail plan over the one put forth by rail company CSX.
Mack believes CSX's plan, which North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey's supports, will increase rail traffic in the impoverished and largely African-American neighborhoods. "You need to share the burden throughout the City of North Charleston," Mack said.
The CSX plan, endorsed by the city, includes abandoning a rail line along Spruill Avenue and purchasing 40 acres of industrial land along the Stromboli Avenue in the Union Heights neighborhood for a new rail line. The state has argued that by ignoring a new line along Strombli Avenue, it is supporting the people in Union Heights and Chicora-Cherokee, the two neighborhoods that will be divided by the new rail line.
"We know it's not going to go through the rich neighborhood. It's going to affect the poor people," says Ellen Feaster-Smalls, a Chicora-Cherokee resident. "They need to put it on the base, but the mayor doesn't want it on the base because it will mess with his gambling boat and all that stuff that he has planned."
Although Mack has argued that the purpose of the forum was to get accurate information out to the public, joining him at the meeting was Jeff McWhorter, president of S.C. Public Railways, a key player in the state's proposal. In regards to criticism that the forum was one-sided, Mack said that North Charleston leaders can hold their own meeting if they want to present their proposal.
However, community members at the forum indicated they wanted to hear more than one side of the story. Herb Fraser-Rahim and others called for a study on the impacts of the two plans. "The problem is that the community doesn't feel it has had enough input into this process," Fraser-Rahim said. "It's not that you don't trust the individual, it's that you don't trust the process."
A new train yard in the area is expected to support all Port of Charleston terminals and a new Cooper River terminal at the south end of the old Navy Yard. North Charleston City leaders support the plan put forth by CSX that would service its trains, as well as rival Norfolk Southern, through the southern end of the city. In response, the state Commerce Department purchased a large swath of the Navy Yard site and is condemning other parcels for a state-maintained rail yard. The state plan would use the same route for CSX trains, but it would send Norfolk Southern trains north through the Navy Yard site and around the Park Circle community.
Park Circle residents have been skeptical about the Commerce Department plan, noting that rail traffic will increase along Virginia Avenue as well as at a crossing on North Rhett Avenue, a main entry point into the Park Circle community. The state has not conducted any studies about how this proposal will affect the community and traffic to and from Park Circle. Residents and businesses have begun placing "Save Park Circle, No More Rails" signs along roadways.
Park Circle is home to blue collar workers, young professionals, and black, white, and Hispanic families. The neighborhood is also home to two LGBT bars. Park Circle was named one of the "coolest neighborhoods" in America by Men's Journal magazine.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has vowed to fight the state rail plan in court. The mayor argues that a memorandum of understanding between the city and the State Ports Authority stated that the new terminal would not be serviced by rail traffic running through the northern part of the city.