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GOVERNOR CAN MAKE GOOD ON HER “PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT” RHETORIC

By Jerry Lahm || On Friday, Boeing will mark a wonderful milestone at its facility in North Charleston, rolling out the first 787 Dreamliner built in South Carolina. According to a recent article in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, this is the first jet that Boeing has produced outside of Puget Sound since World War II.

This is a tremendous accomplishment by the new facility and all of the people involved should be proud of their hard work and enjoy Friday’s celebration of this event, one which promises to bring plenty of dignitaries to the area to celebrate along with them.

One of those dignitaries will be Gov. Nikki Haley, who will surely proclaim this as a “great day in South Carolina.” As the Boeing plant is located in North Charleston, Mayor Keith Summey will also be in attendance as Boeing’s decision to locate in his city was something that he worked long and hard to achieve.

Both of these leaders are currently involved in a dispute over the plans for rail access to the new South Carolina State Ports Authority facility to be built on the south end of the Navy Base – a dispute that is totally unnecessary because the terms of putting the base in North Charleston were negotiated a decade ago and spelled out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the state.

The governor and her commerce department now want to violate the terms outlined in the MOU and use the north end of the Navy Base for rail service in order to have two separate rail facilities for the two railroads that will service the port. The MOU is very clear that all rail access will be located on the south end of the base and that North Charleston will have the north end of the base to pursue a massive urban renewal project.

This agreement was drafted at the direction of the state legislature and subsequently approved by lawmakers. This MOU is the agreement that spurred unprecedented revitalization in the Park Circle and other areas surrounding the base as well as on the base itself, an effort that has been recognized nationally by many different organizations as a model for redevelopment.

Haley’s commerce department would like to ignore the MOU entirely and destroy the north end of the base by making it a massive rail yard operated by S.C. Public Railways (SCPR). This is on top of the other rail yard SCPR would run on the south end of the base. If this happens North Charleston would lose many great, historic structures on the non-industrial north end of the base (as well as access to Riverfront Park) and many businesses would be forced off the base, an area that currently has roughly 8,000 people working on it daily.

It would also take the 80 acres of land ($30 million worth) that was donated to Clemson University by the city for their wind turbine research facility and replace it with rail lines – jeopardizing a project that is expected to attract another 5,000 to 10,000 high-tech jobs to the area. All of this so that two rail carriers do not have to share a rail facility on the industrial south end of the base (something that the same companies do in many other ports in the country already). And oddly enough, SCPR uses union labor, something that the governor was against when the unions and the NLRB were trying to force Boeing to make the North Charleston facility a union shop.

It has been reported that since taking office the governor has had only one conversation with Mayor Summey, which was at a town hall meeting at the College of Charleston in the first several months of her term. Since then she has been silent on the rail issue other than to say that she wants a deal done yesterday and that her Commerce Department is working on it. If that were truly the case there would not be a pending lawsuit in federal court against the State of South Carolina that was filed by the city of North Charleston, a case that so far has cost the city around a half million dollars in legal fees to protect its right to manage its own destiny and have the expectation that when they enter into an agreement with the state that it will be honored. Summey is the mayor of the third largest by population and highest-tax-producing city in the state, something that should warrant at least a conversation.

The governor should make every effort to speak with the mayor while she is in North Charleston at the end of this week and put an end to the rail controversy on the base. She said at her only other conversation with him that if promises were made, promises would be kept. Ever since then she has done everything she can to avoid the issue and not keep those promises. Getting it done yesterday is obviously not going to happen, but since she is going to be in town five minutes from the mayor’s office, maybe she could sit down with him and get it done Friday.

Jerry Lahm is a resident of North Charleston, S.C. He was one of the first people to be blocked from commenting on Gov. Nikki Haley’s Facebook page. Follow him on Twitter @JerryLahm.