Rail proposal the result of a ‘marriage’

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey praised the settlement reached by the city of North Charleston, the S.C. Department of Commerce and others Tuesday night to end an dispute over a proposed rail yard in North Charleston. (Photo/Leslie Burden)North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey praised the settlement reached by the city of North Charleston, the S.C. Department of Commerce and others Tuesday night to end an dispute over a proposed rail yard in North Charleston. (Photo/Leslie Burden)

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Dec. 5, 2012

Backed by state leaders, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the city and state smiled, laughed and cursed each other during negotiations that would eventually turn into a settlement approved by City Council Tuesday night and the S.C. Budget and Control Board today.

“It’s been a marriage, but sometimes in marriage we have disagreements,” Summey said, joking his wife was there, and their marriage works because she tells him no.

“I’m working on that Mr. Mayor,” said Bobby Hitt, secretary of the S.C. Department of Commerce, one of the negotiators in the dispute.

Gov. Nikki Haley traveled to North Charleston Tuesday night for a news conference after the City Council vote. (Photo/Leslie Burden) 
Gov. Nikki Haley traveled to North Charleston Tuesday night for a news conference after the City Council vote. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
But, Hitt said, that tactic isn’t working out for him so far.

Summey, Hitt, Gov. Nikki Haley and others praised the settlement, which calls for a rail yard on Clemson University-owned land and access to the yard through an existing line to the north. The settlement also calls for land swaps between the city and state and a payment of $8 million during the next four years. The state also agreed to take responsibility for $6.5 million in city bond debt that was connected with redevelopment efforts.

The city, S.C. Public Railways, S.C. Department of Transportation and S.C. State Ports Authority will also pay for a transportation study that will examine the impacts of rail and port traffic on the city. The deal will be finalized after a consent order is entered in state court that adopts the settlement’s terms. The order will end cases involving Public Railways, the Commerce Department, the ports authority, the city of North Charleston and others.

“This is leadership at its finest,” said Haley, who traveled to North Charleston for a news conference after the City Council vote. “If you want to work for the people then get them results.”

Hitt also traveled to North Charleston and said business has to fit into the community where it operates, and the settlement accomplishes that.

“I don’t remember being on the receiving end of that cursing,” Hitt added.

The rail yard will also take trucks off Interstate 26, said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman.

“It’s, I think, the beginning of something far greater than we can even imagine,” Leatherman said.

Ports authority board chairman Bill Stern also praised the agreement.

“The construction of a dual-rail-served intermodal container transfer facility at the former Charleston Naval Base will enhance rail competitiveness for the Charleston region,” Stern said. “We are pleased that this will resolve the city’s claims against the ports authority, ending the pending litigation.”

Summey said the city had spent about $750,000 on legal costs, and that figure was about to increase as the parties prepared for upcoming trials.

The settlement ends years of public sparring and legal fights that stem from a 2002 memorandum of understanding between North Charleston and the S.C. State Ports Authority that called for rail access to port property only through the southern end of the new Navy base terminal.

The state proposed its own rail plan — condemning land on the former Navy base — that called for northern and southern access to a rail yard on the base. The state’s plan allows Norfolk Southern to access the facility from the north, while CSX Corp. would access the facility from the south. The rail yard would serve ports authority container terminals. North Charleston argued the plan violated the 2002 memorandum that prevented rail from running through the heart of a city redevelopment effort.

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