Traveling to the CSX terminal in Northwest Ohio, Rebecca Rushton caught a glimpse of the future of North Charleston. As president of the Chicora-Cherokee Neighborhood Association, she represents the community that will be most affected by the construction of the Navy Base Intermodal Container Facility planned for the former Charleston Naval Complex.
The 130-acre project from Palmetto Railways is estimated to employ as many as 100 people in an area that needs jobs. But it will also bring the added noise, traffic, and possible displacement of 106 residential units. The most important challenge facing those behind the development and the neighboring communities is ensuring that all the benefits of bringing such a project to North Charleston are shared equally.
Currently, the best idea of what residents can expect from the proposed intermodal facility is the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recently released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At more than 1,000 pages, the report touches on everything from environmental impacts to the cultural effects of the project. It's not an easy read for any one person to digest. And bordering the project site, the portion of Chicora-Cherokee east of North Carolina Avenue is closer to the proposed development than any other community. That's why several residents have combined their efforts to examine the study and understand exactly what the intermodal facility will mean for them. But their efforts go beyond just that one massive document.
"I traveled to North Baltimore, Ohio to look at a facility that mimics the one that they're building here that CSX has. It gives me a better feel of what they're doing. I do feel a little bit better about the facility, but I think the noise and vibrations are going to be a concern. As far as mitigating that, I guess that's what waits to be seen," says Rushton. "They have pointed out that there are things that need to be taken care of from our neighborhood standpoint and how we're going to be impacted. We'd like for them to be a little firmer about who's going to take care of a few of those things. At this point, it's preliminary. Hopefully, when the actual EIS comes out, they're going to say, 'OK, it is the responsibility of Palmetto Railways to do this, this, and this."
According to Jeff McWhorter, president and CEO of Palmetto Railways, a preliminary review of the draft EIS echoed many of the concerns that they've heard from local residents and stakeholders in the region. To address these impacts, Palmetto Railways is developing a community plan that will define the organization's commitments to avoid or minimize the anticipated effects of the project. Following through on the suggestions of many residents, Palmetto Railways has proposed creating a vegetated buffer to lessen the amount of noise and light that reaches Chicora-Cherokee, rather than constructing a concrete wall. Another major consideration is the implementation of quiet zones, which would restrict the use of train horns in certain parts of town. Palmetto Railways is offering their support in establishing such restrictions in portions of North Charleston, but it falls to the city to conduct a quiet zone study and make a formal request to the Federal Railroad Administration.
"If you have an older home from the 1940s, which a majority of these are, with no insulation, you can hear everything going on. That's a concern because if it's a homeowner that lives there and they're elderly and they have a certain income, it's going to be hard to take all your sheetrock out, re-insulate, and put in new windows to keep your house a little more quiet," says Rushton. "A lot of people from my neighborhood and all the way to people in Park Circle, we all complain about the same train that blows its horn at 4 a.m. In this area, everybody can hear it. I think a big concern is a lot of the train noise and the trains blowing their horns because we don't have any quiet zones."
As neighborhood associations and Palmetto Railways discuss a mitigation strategy for any negative impacts that may result from the facility, many residents are trying to take advantage of the new jobs that are expected to be created. According to McWhorter, the intermodal facility will bring approximately 3,000 temporary jobs during construction. Palmetto Railways plans to extend at least 5 percent of those to minority/disadvantaged businesses in the area.
"Another 50-100 jobs may be created after construction," says McWhorter. "Palmetto Railways looks forward to hiring from within the local community and is currently working with neighborhood associations to recruit for current open positions for existing operations. Job fairs, education, and training will be included in the community plan moving forward."
For Chicora-Cherokee, the creation of these nearby jobs could not come soon enough. More than half of the homes in the area don't have access to a vehicle, and with a median annual household income of less than $19,000, approximately three-quarters of the homes in the area are considered low-income. The people of Chicora-Cherokee acknowledge that the intermodal facility is coming. They just hope that it serves to elevate the community, rather than leave it dead in its tracks.
"People are just trying to keep a roof over their head. They're not thinking about all this other stuff. It's a lot of work to just survive, much less figure out what else is going on, and the intermodal facility is a big thing," says Rushton. "One of my biggest things is taking advantage of the situation and the jobs. I send people in their direction, and we're getting information about jobs to pass along to the community. There are a couple of people that should not have any problems qualifying, and we're working on how to get other people so that they qualify for these jobs. If it's going to happen, we need to reap the positive aspects of the situation, and we need jobs in this neighborhood. Hopefully, it will benefit us in some way, and hopefully that will benefit the people in this neighborhood."