COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Two environmental groups asked a federal judge to stop construction of a new container terminal in North Charleston until a compromise can be found on rail access, which they say is vital to local air quality.
The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Center asked U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck for an injunction this week. They say a delay is needed to give federal officials time to determine whether Interstate 26, from Charleston, can handle the estimated 10,000 vehicles trips a day the new terminal would generate.
They also want state officials to consider whether direct rail connections to the site -not included in the original environmental impact study – might prove the best way to limit traffic congestion and improve air quality.
Rail connection to the cargo facility has been a hot issue in Charleston. A memorandum of understanding between the S.C. State Ports Authority and the City of North Charleston restricts access to the south end of the site, sparing a major new “green” development of the city from constant train traffic.
But Norfolk Southern railroad and others say that given the track configuration, southern-only access would favor its competitor, CSX Transportation, whose tracks terminate near the south end of the terminal. Norfolk Southern’s tracks reach the north end of the new terminal site. They want to build a huge container transfer yard there. But that would violate the authority’s MOU with the city and traverse the new development.
Nancy Vinson, water quality manager for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, said an injunction would give all interested parties the chance to “sit down and work out a compromise that works for everybody.”
“The bottom line, given the state of the economy, is we have time to find a solution that will allow for the terminal will reducing air pollution and traffic,” Vinson said. “At present, shipping volumes are down 40 percent from what they were in 2005, and the Port of Charleston is operating at 50 percent capacity.
“Even if the global economy were to turn around tomorrow, it would still take years to reach full capacity at the existing terminals.”
The environmental groups say Charleston will not need a new terminal for at least a decade due to the economic downturn. The Coastal Conservation League cites a March report from the S.C. Department of Commerce that showed that unanticipated declines in trade mean Charleston’s existing terminals will be underused for at least the next decade.
The case, originally filed in November, 2007, is 2:07-cv-03802-CWH.