LORIS — Ken Pippin told the two-state railroad committee Thursday afternoon that negative newspaper stories about him and his railroad, Carolina Southern, could hurt his attempts to sell the line.
Additionally, he and his lawyer, Tommy Brittain, repeatedly suggested that the railroad committee and public officials in Horry, Marion and Columbus, N.C., counties need to work with Pippin to sell the railroad rather than moving forward with an appeal to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that could force a sale of the railroad that has been shutdown for nearly two years.
Everyone has the same goal, the sale of Carolina Southern to someone who can restore service along its 100 miles of track, Brittain said, and proceeding with the appeal to the STB could force the railroad to hire a “high-fallutin’” lawyer of its own.
Members of the committee agreed that all share the same goal, but said they could work on two paths at once.
The counties want to continue with the STB appeal just in case no buyer is found.
The three counties have agreed to fund $3,500 total for a Chicago lawyer with 45 years experience in railroad law to file the appeal, which will ask the federal board to investigate the situation.
The move came after repeated attempts to find another solution, and after Pippin repeatedly said he doesn’t have the estimated $2 million to fix bridges so that rail service can be restored.
Members of the two-state committee have said they don’t know for sure if that is true because Pippin has never shown them any documents to verify his financial standing. Pippin only recently turned over some documents to Horry County that were required under his lease of the county’s 14 miles of track between Conway and Myrtle Beach.
A couple of months ago, Horry County declared Pippin in default of the lease payments and revoked the contract. Besides approximately $200,000 he owes in lease payments, he’s also $120,000 overdue on some railroad property taxes, officials have said.
All at Thursday’s meeting said they feel that Pippin should get a fair price for his railroad.
“I think everyone understands that Mr. Pippin has certain rights,” said Doug Wendel, co-chairman of the two-state committee that has worked for more than a year to find a way to get the railroad running again. “He has the right to liquidate it. He has the right to sell it.”
“We will work with you,” Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus told Pippin and Brittain.
But at the same time, he said, the county will continue with its appeal to the STB.
Just in case.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.