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Promenade Intermodal Facility – a high-stakes deal-estate gamble
Lee Walton

There’s an old Broad Street axiom in behind-the-scenes political shenanigans. It equates the amount of political capital and news print ink invested up-front in a land deal to the potential wealth to be reaped by the selected few holding the high cards and controlling the public purse strings – the greater the Palter and Chatter coverage, the more money, influence, and prestige there is to gain. Given the one-inch high, above-the-fold headline of Sunday’s Palter and Chatter, “Rail or no rail?” and the entire page 12A dedicated to Allyson Bird’s article, the possibility of a Promenade Intermodal Facility on Town Creek must rank right up there with Daniel Island, Long Savannah, and Poplar Grove.

As currently envisioned by Robert Clement, III, the latest Promenade developer, who also happens to be a partner in both the Magnolia Development and Ship Yard Creek site, as well as a long-time political deal-estate ally of Mayor J. Pericles Riley, the Town Creek intermodal site could offer two very valuable and much needed additions to SPA operations on the Charleston Peninsula. One section, probably the oldest southernmost of the two former county landfill sites, could offer enough container storage area to double operations at the adjacent SPA Columbus Street Terminal. The other former Romney Street landfill site just south of the old coal-tipple trestle could become the new site of the SPA’s Ro-Ro vehicle shipment operations and allow BMW an expanded alternative to the old, cramped roll-on/roll-off operations at the Union Terminal between Market and Laurens Streets.

Superficially, without evaluating the obvious complexity of operational and infrastructure requirements and the massive public investment to pull it off, the Promenade Intermodal Facility sounds like a viable option and a real plus for the lagging competitiveness of Charleston’s port facilities. But as with all Rileyworld visions refracted by rose-colored smoke and wavy mirrors, the devil’s in the details. For starters, there’s the 8,000 feet-long intermodal trains snarling traffic on the upper East Side and a new multi-million dollar marsh-crossing railway bridge envisioned by the president of the SC Public Railways serving port operations,

There’s also the as yet unmentioned, issue of how to get those behemoth Ro-Ro vessels into the upper reach of Town Creek to a new dockside facility built over heavily vegetated tidal marsh. The new Ravenel Bridge wasn’t built high enough over Town Creek to allow large vessels safe passage from the south. Access from the north into Town Creek would require a challenging, sharp 90-degree left turn from the main Cooper Channel to enter Town Creek southbound and a similar sharp 90-degree right turn to exit northbound. Leaving would likely require a tug-assisted exit astern into the Cooper Channel, because there is insufficient room north of the bridge to construct a new turning basin without cutting into Drum Island. Strong tidal currents at the north end of Drum Island and the problematic windage of slab-sided Ro-Ro vessels will make for some harrowing challenges for local harbor pilots and tug operators.

Dredging? Oh, no one mentioned that the old, long forgotten shallow Town Creek channel would have to be deepened and widened to handle fully loaded Ro-Ro vessels - well that’s not the developer’s responsibility; the taxpayers will have to pick up that tab and for the disposal of contaminated dredge materials too. You can’t expect the developer to pay for those unanticipated surprises.

What do you mean, land fills sink and settle? We thought that only happened in the VA Hospital parking lot, on Courtney and Bee Streets, and up at the centerfield of The Joe.

Five-high stacks of containers need level ground and the cranes that lift them do too. And who would have thought that thousands of 90-feet long piling would be needed to support the new docks and rail access ramps? Another surprise - all these piles will have to be driven through a SCDHEC regulated putrescible landfill cap that leaks highly explosive methane gas! Nobody said anything about that! The public, state, or better yet, Mayor Joe’s new Neck Tax Increment Financing bonds will just have to pay for those extra costs.

What do you mean that the surrounding neighborhoods don’t like getting up at 5:00 a.m. to the sound of slamming rail cars, the roar of diesel trucks, and banging containers? We’re blue-collar workers just trying to make an honest living. Those folks living in the condos at the old jail and the developers of One Cool Blow should have thought of that before they built those condos and sold them to all those retired folks “from off”.

Folks, this one’s going to be more exciting to watch than a run-away carriage on South Battery full of terrified tourists. Just guess who’s going to pick up the billion-dollar tab?

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