North Charleston leaders and residents have worried for weeks about the state's vague proposal to shift redevelopment at the Navy Yard for a new rail yard. Now Statehouse leaders are calling for details, largely in an effort to flesh out the state's proposal for angry residents.
The Department of Commerce recently purchased 240 acres of the cash-strapped Noisette development. The primary goal was to relocate Clemson facilities on the Navy Yard so the Commerce Department could build a state-maintained rail yard near the new Port of Charleston terminal. The conceptual plan addressed early concerns by the City of North Charleston: It provides access to Riverfront Park and eliminates one train route through the Park Circle community. But the proposal would all but ruin the city's vision for urban redevelopment at the Navy Yard.
Skeptics have little to allay their fears. The new rail facility is expected to service every rail car coming to and from Charleston port terminals, but the state has few details about what this increased traffic will mean for North Charleston residents and commuters who cross the train tracks on a daily basis and already find themselves stuck at crossings.
State officials say their swift, unpolished pitch is in response to the foreclosure of a large swath of the Navy Yard site, which provided an opportunity to acquire necessary land. But it was just as much a response to the City of North Charleston's agreement with rail line CSX for a private rail yard that avoided the controversial proposal to send new trains through the Navy Yard.
In findings released last week, the oversight commission for the State Ports Authority wants to see a detailed pitch of each proposal. Members of the commission have been adamant that CSX rival Norfolk Southern have equal access to the new port, but Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell recently suggested the commission was open to a solution that didn't "run over" North Charleston.
Spokeswoman Kara Borie says the Commerce Department will provide the information requested, noting it "will further demonstrate the importance of competitive dual rail access and detail our efforts to enhance the quality of life of local residents."
The commission is calling for specific plans for the rail facilities that includes "functional characteristics, cost projections, and timelines." The commission says it's looking for an "apples-to-apples comparison" that's "free from sales, marketing, or public relations materials." Proposals are expected to reference the state's 2008 rail plan, which notes the complications in developing a rail yard but points to the proposed CSX site as a superior option to the Commerce Department's Navy Yard location. Pitches are due in early February, followed by formal presentations.
Considering the oversight commission is focused intently on how the proposals will impact port growth, the requested materials don't include an analysis on the impacts to North Charleston residents.