MYRTLE BEACH — An appeal to the federal Surface Transportation Board over the future of Carolina Southern Railroad could take six months to a year to run its course, if it goes all the way through the process.
Doug Wendel, co-chairman of a two-state committee working to restore rail service, told members of the executive committee of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. that few if any such appeals have been ruled on by the STB in recent years because the logjam in negotiations that caused the appeal tends to loosen when official action becomes imminent.
Horry, Marion and Columbus, N.C., counties have agreed to fund $3,500 for a Chicago attorney who specializes in railroad law to file the action.
It is asking the STB to investigate why the railroad has been shut down for nearly two years and, if necessary, to order that it be sold.
When the appeal became a reality, officials with the railroad announced that they are seeking a buyer for the about 100-mile line. It ceased operations in the fall 2011 because of problems found on a few of its bridges.
Ken Pippin, Carolina Southern owner, said he doesn’t have the estimated $2 million to make the repairs. Horry County unsuccessfully sought a federal grant for the money, and members of the two-state committee have become increasingly frustrated with Pippin because they felt he wasn’t cooperating as much as he could have to resolve the situation.
That inaction led to the imminent appeal.
Some industries along the track relied on rail service for raw materials and to ship out finished product and have had to find more expensive alternative ways to meet their transportation needs.
Officials in Columbus County remain nervous over the future of a Georgia Pacific lumber mill that would employ more than 400 people if it were reactivated.
The mill was put on inactive status during the recession, but could be permanently closed if the company needs more capacity and rail service is still not available, they have said.
Gary Lanier, chairman of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission, said he would have thought that Pippin might have offered to put up some of his personal assets to show good faith of his desire to resolve the situation. That did not happen.
Pippin owns three condominiums along the Grand Strand that are valued at nearly $900,000 combined, according to Horry County records.
Wendel said that municipalities along the line, and possibly some of the railroad’s customers, will join in seeking the federal action.
Wendel said the next issue that will have to be dealt with is exactly what repairs are needed to get the line back in service and how much it would cost to do so.
He told the EDC executive committee this week that two potential buyers are having appraisals done of the line and would have that information as a result.
The information likely would not be publicly available unless it becomes part of the STB process, he said.
Wendel said that the STB will ask for a meeting with the railroad and those who filed the appeal after it completes its investigation.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.