by Paul Bowers
The Army Corps of Engineers is in the early stages of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed intermodal rail terminal on the Navy Yard, and already neighbors and stakeholders from around the old naval base are weighing in with their concerns.
As cargo ships unload at the Port of Charleston, shipping containers are offloaded onto trucks, which are then transferred to train cars for transportation out of the city. The proposed Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, to be built on the southern end of the Navy Yard, would serve as a transition point between trucks and trains.
And while Palmetto Railways, a division of the S.C. Department of Commerce, has said that the facility is necessary to keep up with increasing port traffic, neighbors and property owners on the former Navy base are concerned about what will happen to their investments. At a community input meeting earlier this week, Rosemont Neighborhood Council President Nancy Button said residents of her community, which lies south of the Navy Yard off of the King Street Extension, are upset about a potential new access ramp that would be built in their neighborhood.
"I don't have a bunch of happy campers in my community," Button said.
Also present at the meeting were lawyers representing the Lowcountry Innovation Center, the West Yard Lofts low-income apartment building, and property owner Jieren LLC. Their clients bought into the Navy Yard dream at a time when the city of North Charleston was touting the area as a future thriving community with zoning for mixed commercial and residential use.
"All of our clients spent a lot of money purchasing property and siting in an area that was never supposed to have a railroad track in the first place," said Stephanie Roberts, an attorney representing the West Yard Lofts.
In a letter outlining the concerns of the apartment owners, Roberts asks that Palmetto Railways be required to install buffer walls or green spaces and to build roads to ensure emergency vehicle access.
"The rail lines will support double-stacked containers on rail cars coupled up to a mile in length, moving in and out of the hub 24 hours a day and operating under 'stadium-style' lights at night," Roberts writes in the letter.
According to Nat Ball, project manager with the Corps of Engineers, the finalized Environmental Impact Statement likely won't be ready until fall of 2015 or later. Factors to be considered in the study will include impacts on transportation, noise and vibration analysis, air quality analysis, and impact on natural resources.
Given the Navy Yard project's history of public acrimony, it could be the most-read EIS in the Charleston area since the 2010 EIS that showed the impact of extending I-526 across Johns Island and James Island.
Ball said the Corps of Engineers will host more community meetings to hear public concerns over the next six to nine months, and the final study will weigh the pros and cons of alternative rail terminal plans.
"Part of our analysis will be looking not only at what's been proposed, but looking at alternatives — either other sites or changes in configuration that might avoid or minimize impacts," Ball said.