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Commerce Dept disputes $1.2 million in Navy Yard fees

Court filing is the latest turn in North Charleston rail controversy

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The S.C. Department of Commerce is asking the local circuit court for relief from more than $1.2 million in transfer fees and strict covenants in association with the state's controversial purchase of 240 acres at the old Navy Yard in North Charleston. The state acquired the foreclosed property late last year for new train tracks servicing local Norfolk Southern rail traffic, as well as for relocated Clemson facilities displaced in the plan for a state-owned rail yard near the new Charleston Port terminal at the south end of the old base.

Following agreements in 2002 with the State Ports Authority to keep rail out of the north end of the Navy Yard, the City of North Charleston aggressively pursued an urban redevelopment called The Navy Yard at Noisette. A large portion of the property fell into foreclosure and into the state's hands last year, but approximately 100 acres remain. The property owners left are the defendants in the suit. The Commerce Department is claiming standard transfer fees involved in the sale of the property don't apply to the state's complicated purchase, which was done in secret over several months last fall.

The complaint also attempts to void restrictions and covenants placed on development at the site, claiming that the Navy Yard at Noisette as envisioned is a failure. It is a line that has been used time and again by supporters of the state's rail plan, but it ignores the fact that there are thriving businesses on the ground. It's important to note that the state Commerce Department hasn't, until this point, made such a bold declaration that the urban redevelopment dreamed of at the Navy Yard could not happen.

"The South Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Public Railways cannot and will not transform the property into the prototypical New American City," according to the court filing. Instead, they'll be laying train tracks, but also plan to make some portion of the rest of the site available to Clemson University. Land that had been gifted by the city to Clemson for the school's wind turbine testing program has been condemned for the state's proposed rail yard.

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