Two Sides to Navy Base Change

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A $280 million project is in the works for the old Navy base.

For you, the project will mean fewer trucks sharing your roads in the Charleston area and it could help the port grow. That's the plus side of the proposed Navy Base Intermodal Facility.

But some say progress and growth have a downside, too.

In the near future, the old Navy base in North Charleston will become a cargo transfer facility.

"It's bordered by Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood on the West, Hobson Avenue to the East," Palmetto Railways CEO Jeff McWhorter said as he outlined the plan for the 234-acre project.  The state-owned container transfer facility will be a hub for transferring cargo between ships, trucks, and trains.

"There's gotta be some place for those boxes to go," McWhorter said.

A huge volume will come in and out of the port as Charleston's port grows.

"International containers that move in and out of the Hugh Leatherman terminal that move by rail will be moved to and from this facility," McWhorter said. "It'll take truck traffic out of the mix."

Taking trucks off area roads is one benefit, as well as 450 million construction dollars to build it. Despite economic benefits, some contend the
state-owned project has a downside, too.

Don Campagna has been working to save the historic Naval Hospital District.

"This district has 32 buildings on the National Registry," Campagna said. "This is the last remaining medical military complex in the country."

The complex has a hospital, nurses quarter and homes for doctors who served countless wounded warriors.

"We owe it to them and to their service and sacrifice to make sure that we keep a place where future generations can learn what it cost and what it means to be an American," Campagna said.

The Palmetto Railways plan would take out 72 buildings on the old Navy Base, ten of them in the Historic Hospital District. McWhorter said they have tried to preserve the district but couldn't make it happen.

"We've just not been able to determine another way or figure another way to do it," he said.

Campagna contends taking any portion of the district would diminish historic value.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has put the Hospital District on the 2016 list of endangered places.

In addition to the historic impact, there's a human factor as well.  On another side of the proposed intermodal facility, 132 people will lose their homes.

Leroy Jones lives in an apartment building that is coming down.

"I got attached to the place, but as you can see, time to go," he said. Jones is happy, saying his rent will be paid for 42 months. That's not the case.  People impacted will be paid the difference between their current rent, and rent in their new locations.

Another home to be removed is owned by Randy Altman. He will be compensated and is thinking of hiring a lawyer to negotiate the price.

"There's nothing you can do when they step in or, what is it, imminent domain, right?" he said. "That's what it is, we're stuck there."

The South Carolina Community Loan Fund writes that this puts "further strain on a regional affordable housing market that is already in crisis mode."

Palmetto has been working with community groups on housing and the impact of the facility.

"We're looking at noise, and vibration and air quality and things of that nature," McWhorter said.

Community groups asked for a landscaped buffer, rather than a sound wall.  That larger footprint is what led to the homes lost along the fence line. And McWorter says they're working with the City of North Charleston over the demotion of Sterett Hall. A grassy field stretches across the property where the hall once served the community as auditorium and gym.

To keep from disrupting neighbors, Palmetto Railways wants to establish quiet zones and is planning so rush hour traffic isn't blocked, as far south as Charleston's Herbert and Meeting Street crossing.

If plans are approved, two years from now, four trains a day, each more than a mile long, will pull in and chug out.  McWhorter contends this is essential for the port to grow.

"If we don't have it, business could go elsewhere," he said.

If all goes according to plans, construction could begin once all permits are in place next year.

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