Both sides in the contentious debate over rail access to the new Port of Charleston terminal sought last week to make their case in front of the public — including an apparent push poll from opponents to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and the private rail yard proposed by rail line CSX.
The contentious debate focuses on where a new loading site should be for the region's two rail providers to service the terminal planned at the southern end of Navy Yard. CSX has offered a private site using tracks south of the terminal, while also providing access to competitor Norfolk Southern. But the state's Department of Commerce is moving forward with a state-owned facility serving Norfolk Southern trains from the north end. The Commerce plan would likely mean an end to urban renewal efforts at the Navy Yard and would impact traffic in and around the Park Circle community.
First reported by The Post and Courier, the poll allegedly included questions critical of Summey and the CSX plan, as well as others supportive of the state's proposal. The poll was conducted by Voter Consumer Research of Houston for the Tarrance Group, a D.C.-based GOP polling firm. Tarrance did not return our call for a comment. A Department of Commerce spokeswoman told The P&C that the agency doesn't know who paid for the poll.
Meanwhile, Summey called on North Charleston residents to rally behind the city in his State of the City address last Thursday. "We ask that you let your legislators know that you do not appreciate North Charleston being lied to, you do not appreciate North Charleston being, pardon the pun, railroaded," he said. Summey has promised a spirited legal challenge to the state plan that could tie up development for years.
Summey said Monday that he still wasn't sure who had paid for the poll. Seeking another term in November, he says even his political opponents should be asking what is best for North Charleston. "In politics, there are two sides to everything," Summey says. "This issue is something that goes beyond politics."
CSX Vice President Fredrik Eliasson visited the area last week, saying the company's proposal for a private rail yard is cheaper and more efficient than the state's controversial plan. The argument from state leaders has centered on access for Norfolk Southern. Eliasson says CSX has heard the call for dual access and will hammer out a fair agreement with Norfolk Southern that will keep rail access competitive. The two companies cross each other's tracks throughout the region. "We'll work with them to create a solution that works," Eliasson says.
The state's Port Review and Oversight Commission has requested proposals this month from all parties to weigh the benefits of each rail plan. CSX argues it could save money by avoiding some charges associated with the state rail site, which would be further away from the new port terminal. It would also avoid road improvements in the state plan, including an overpass at Cosgrove Avenue and undetermined improvements where tracks cross North Rhett Avenue and Rivers Avenue.