I have been alarmed by Representative James H. Merrill’s recent introduction of an amendment to S.351. The proposed amendment would not only be extremely detrimental to the communities of
The progress we have made has been the product of perseverance, efforts, and promises kept. The City’s current renaissance is based on our commitment to the future. Reliance on that commitment has been the basis on which people have been moving into communities like Oak Terrace Preserve, Mixson, the Olde East Montague Historic District, Charleston Farms, Horizon Village and the like. That commitment has been the basis on which millions of dollars of public and private investment has flowed in to restore these communities. The people and the money necessary to rebuild communities from within are flowing based on faith and trust.
There are several specific promises made by the State and relied upon by the people that would be impacted by Representative Merrill’s amendment to S.351. As far back as 2003, the State Legislature passed a bill that transferred the North end of the Navy Base to the City and established the Port site on the South end of the Navy Base. This was not to be a free for all. This was subject to certain mutually agreed upon conditions.
Those conditions were a hard fought battleground because they were so important to so many people. The State needed a port whether the City wanted one or not. Once it was clear that the Port was coming over
The promises of the state were relied upon. Hundreds of permits have been pulled for renovations of homes in the south end of the City. Redevelopment projects such as Oak Terrace Preserve, Mixson,
The City and its residents were not the only ones that relied upon the State’s promises. So did the United States Government. The SCSPA had to apply to the federal government for a construction permit. Thousands of man hours are devoted to creating, reviewing and analyzing such proposals and, specifically, the impact of such proposals on the surrounding community. The federal government’s analysis is based on the applicant’s representations. Activity that deviates from the permitted and approved proposal can grind the project to a halt.
Just as the State gave specific promises to the City, the State was equally willing to give specific promises to the US Army Corps of Engineers. As noted in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the Corps, “[t]he proposed project does not include the construction of any new rail facilities on the project site, nor does it include constructing improvements to any existing rail facilities located on the remainder of the Charleston Naval Complex property. According to the SCSPA, all container cargo that enters or exits the project site by land will be carried by trucks.” See Final EIS Section 3.2.4 If you do not think the federal government relied on that, consider the conditions attached to the permit issued to the SCSPA: “The determination of this office that issuance of this permit is not contrary to the public interest was made in reliance on the information you provided.” “This office may reevaluate its decision on this permit” … if “you fail to comply with the terms and conditions of this permit” or “the information provided by you in support of your permit application proves to have been false, incomplete, or inaccurate.” Moreover, the Corps noted that the SCSPA “understands and agrees that their commitment not to begin operation of the approved port facility until the access roadway between the marine container terminal and Interstate 26 is operational was an integral part of our evaluation. Operation of the port facility cannot commence until the access roadway is operation and available for use by all port related truck traffic.”
Forgotten Promises Recent activity suggests that the State’s prior promises have been forgotten. You can imagine the City’s surprise when it recently received the State’s “State Rail Plan 2008 Update.” There the State’s consultant identified three potential “Near dock intermodal [rail yard] sites.” Two of the three were on the City’s development area as designated by the prior City / State agreement. In fact, for all intents and purposes, there would not be any remaining area for the City to see developed. The State’s consultant got at least part of the equation right, noting that “the only properties with [rail yard] promise are those undergoing redevelopment or reuse.” ES-13
Recent activity suggests that the State’s prior promises have been forgotten. You can imagine the City’s surprise when it recently received the State’s “State Rail Plan 2008 Update.” There the State’s consultant identified three potential “Near dock intermodal [rail yard] sites.” Two of the three were on the City’s development area as designated by the prior City / State agreement. In fact, for all intents and purposes, there would not be any remaining area for the City to see developed. The State’s consultant got at least part of the equation right, noting that “the only properties with [rail yard] promise are those undergoing redevelopment or reuse.” ES-13
Recent legislative activity has transformed the community’s surprise over the State’s rail study into alarm. The amendment to S.351 introduced by Representative Merrill would convert the Rail Plan from mere random musing by a consultant into actual broken promises.
SECTION 15 of S.351
13-1-1355 All Tracks, spurs, switches, terminal, terminal facilities, road beds, rights-of-way, bridges, stations, railroad cars, locomotives, or other vehicles constructed for operation over railroad tracks, crossing signs, lights, signals, storage, and all associated structures and equipment which are necessary for the operation of any railroad located on any “applicable federal military installation” or “applicable federal facility” as defined in section 12-6-3450 shall, upon transfer to the State of South Carolina, immediately vest, in fee simple absolute, in the Division of Public Railways of the Department of Commerce. This statute is remedial and shall be deemed to be retroactive.
The Legislature appeased
I am saddened when I realize the political realities of why the State is abandoning its promises and these communities in
Northern rail access as proposed by Representative Merrill will create problems that will haunt
1) The first squandered opportunity is the chance to have a healthy port and economy. The SCSPA will not have a
It is ironic that the State’s about-face here will solve the Port’s “lack of capacity” problems even more certainly than construction of the disputed new terminal. Increased capacity is only needed if the Port has customers. The recent pullouts and renegotiations by Maersk and others cannot be overlooked. The Port has long threatened that without a new terminal open it would lose even more business. Well, lost business is one way to solve the capacity problem. Once
2) The second squandered opportunity is the State’s refusal to create a real, workable and comprehensive rail solution for the region. Shocking as it may sound,
What would “rail done right” look like? For one thing, it would come from the south. Even the State Rail study indicates the former Macalloy Site is the preferred location for a potential rail yard and this site is easier accessed from the south. There are multiple rail right of ways in the peninsula and there are not that many rail customers. If the two major commercial rail carriers would cooperate, the multiple right of ways could be used more efficiently and improve services to the various customers. Cooperation might even result in sufficient right of way becoming available to permit the establishment of commuter / light rail, something our traffic clogged tri-county area desperately needs. Cooperation certainly would result in the State being able to obtain the dual access it desires for its new terminal facilities. However, cooperation is not possible without interest and effort.
Is this possible? Absolutely. One of our local developers has been watching the events unfold concerning the rail line to the Port with interest. He created a conceptual plan which provides for southern rail access to the new Port terminals and also improves rail access to existing terminals in the City of
Is it free? No, but it is the least expensive option for this state. If the State were to properly locate a rail yard, then track would have to be laid. While expensive, track is going to have to be laid whether a new yard is established on Base or to the south. What about land? Again, that is not free but a new rail yard will require land whether established on Base or to the south. So the cost inputs are there either way. What about funding? Many hands make light work. The SCSPA, the City of
So why is the State pursuing the installation of rail yards on land previously deeded to
The Merrill approach, if passed, would create financial and legal problems for the state. The South Carolina Constitution in Article I, Section 4, provides that no law impairing the obligations of contracts shall be passed. Obviously this is what the state is attempting to do. With the State’s blessing, the City of
The State Legislature’s proposed path (whether it is viewed as“impairment” or a “taking”) will lead it towards a financial nightmare. Think about all the items for which the State is about to unwittingly pay. The dirt under the rail tracks is valuable land. The State will be buying each and every acre. The dirt under the rail yard is valuable land. The State will be buying each and every acre. Moreover, the State will also be paying for the diminution of value to the surrounding land caused by its actions. Remember, the land on Base around the proposed rail facilities is undergoing redevelopment. The redevelopment established value based on exciting plans. But none of those dreams can be fulfilled with a rail yard lying in the center of the community. The State will end up compensating owners for that change in decreased value. For example, if the land surrounding the tracks was worth $50 million dollars with the state’s promises in place, but falls to $10 million once the redevelopment is destroyed by the State’s new rail plans, then the State just earned the right to pay $40 million in addition to the cost of the land it actually needs.
One must also add to the direct cost the lost revenues for the State as a whole. As mentioned, Port construction will stop. During that time, customers will drift away faster than ever, and by the time the State pays the lawsuits and pays to develop the terminal it will stand as a vacant reminder of the State’s broken promises.
Solution This is a problem too important to remain unsolved.
This is a problem too important to remain unsolved.
R. Keith Summey, Mayor