Naval base development talks progressing

Negotiations have resumed behind closed doors about putting a rail yard on the former Charleston Naval Base, and two key players say a deal could be unveiled in a few weeks.

The talks, which include state Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and others, extend well beyond rail issues.

They include the future of Veterans Terminal, a possible site for constructing large wind turbines, and land for an international center for aerospace research, should Clemson University team up with Boeing's new Dreamliner assembly plant at Charleston International Airport in the same way it did with BMW's plant in the Upstate.

And the talks also include infrastructure issues such as rail overpasses, sound barriers and the need to widen Interstate 26 east of Interstate 526.

McConnell said the talks have had two overarching themes.

One is the former base's potential to generate new jobs, not just from the new port being developed at its southern end but from Boeing's new plant and the Department of Energy's recent decision to select Clemson's Restoration Institute's North Charleston site for a new $98 million test lab for large offshore wind turbines.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to put finishing touches on two things we've accomplished so far," he said. "Where one piece folds in affects other pieces. We have to look at which ones are going to help economically move this state forward."

The other major theme is the need for the city of North Charleston to embrace any deal. McConnell said, "The mayor and city need to be a partner and not an adversary."

Summey said this week that no deal has been struck, but added, "I'm cautiously optimistic. The greatest thing is I know is that the senator (McConnell) is not going to let them shove it down our throat. ... The worst thing that could happen is we end up in court fighting over this stuff. That's not to anybody's advantage."

The recent discussions are a continuation of meetings earlier this year between Summey, McConnell and other high-level state officials.

In July, Summey met with state senators and Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor about building an intermodal rail facility in the central part of the base, where Clemson's Restoration Institute owns a large tract. The facility would help handle port cargo.

The city was offered about $25 million from the state to buy much of Noisette Co.'s property at the base - property that's now in foreclosure. The city also would get state help to buy properties along North Carolina Avenue near the rail yard as well as land along St. Johns Avenue.

Summey has made no secret about his displeasure with any plan to run rail access through the northern end of the base, largely because of its effect on revitalization plans.

However, others have noted that a southern route would be too pricey and favor CSX over Norfolk Southern.