North Charleston residents say new rail plan has gone off the tracks

‘It diminishes our quality of life. That’s the bottom line’

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DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
Many residents of Park Circle and the Navy Yard feel it’s back to square one in regards to new rail lines proposed for the area.

Last month, Palmetto Railways released a revamped plan for tracks leading to the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, which is set to finish construction in 2020. Originally proposed in 2013, the new facility will provide a state-of-the-art intermodal hub for the Port of Charleston and meet rising demands, according to a letter submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers by Palmetto Railways President Jeffrey McWhorter. In the letter, McWhorter writes that the existing rail yards for the two carriers serving the area, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railways, are reaching capacity.

The biggest changes to the project include two new connections to the local rail network, according to the Corps of Engineers, which is tasked with issuing permits for the development. The original plan to establish a route along Spruill Avenue to Bexley Avenue has been scrapped in favor of a northern connection that would run through the Charleston Naval Hospital Historic District and a southern connection that extends almost south a mile to a currently out-of-service rail right-of-way near the intersection of Meeting and Milford streets.

At first glance, the new proposal doesn’t seem to differ drastically from previous plans, but the Corps of Engineers describes the changes as “substantial” and will be holding a public scoping meeting Oct. 27 to hear from residents of the area affected by the new plan. Until one plan is solidified, the Army Corps cannot complete their environmental impact study, which is the definitive indicator of how this project affects the community.

The changes to the proposal have brought back many of the concerns that residents had with earlier plans for the rail line.

“This is not something new for the Navy Yard and Park Circle. I own a property on the Navy Yard, and they are putting this rail about 60 yards from my home,” says Batu Aytore, a resident on Avenue F who opposes to the new plan. “There’s noise pollution, air pollution. If someone runs a two-mile-long train by your house, it will rumble your house. These buildings in the Navy Yard were built in the early 1900s. They will not absorb that vibration.”

Charlsie Tarpley and her husband spent years restoring the home they purchased on Avenue F. Now Tarpley says she’s uncertain what to expect as the proposed route sits just 57 feet from her property.

“We’ve been through hell and back trying to just get that house in a livable condition. We have two small children that are only five and seven. We’re trying to make that place our home,” Tarpley says. “Now we’re back to essentially what they promised we weren’t going to be having to deal with, which is a train track coming through there.”

In addition to the various homes and businesses in Tarpley’s neighborhood that will be affected by the route, the proposed lines will also run by Lowcountry Orphan Relief on Truxtun Avenue and the Chicora School of Communications.

A Facebook group by the name of No Rail, Raise Some Hell was established as a way for many in the community to voice their objections. With more than 330 members, key concerns seem to be traffic changes, excessive noise produced by trains passing near residential neighborhoods, and the fate of the Navy Hospital Historic District.

DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
The old Navy Hospital property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The area is credited as a historically significant example of the country’s medical support efforts during World War I and World War II, according to the S.C. Department of Archives and History. The new rail plan would include a route that travels through the area’s historic district. Although this property has been deemed historically significant, it is not protected by the National Park Service, which manages the National Register. According to Bill Reynolds, a spokesman for the Park Service’s Southeast regional office in Atlanta, a National Register listing places no restrictions on private property owners, including state and local governments.

“When changes do occur to a historic property, the National Register listing may be withdrawn if the historic property is so altered that the qualities which caused it to be originally listed are lost,” Reynolds wrote in an email.

According to Reynolds, in the case of the proposed rail route, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible with complying with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which encourages, but does not require preservation.

“Section 106 is a process in which federal agencies must consider how their actions may affect historic properties. As part of the Section 106 process, the federal agencies must consult with the State Historic Preservation Office,” Reynolds writes.

Depending on the project, a federal agency might identify other consulting parties to fully examine all the possible effects of a proposed plan. According to Reynolds, the federal agency, State Historic Preservation Office, and any consulting parties would work together to try to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to historic properties.

“The impact of what they want to do is amazing,” says Aytore. “Whoever plans this, sits down, and draws it on paper, they don’t leave their comfy chair and come look around here. Basically, it diminishes our quality of life. That’s the bottom line.”

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