LORIS — Myrtle Beach attorney Tommy Brittain told a two-state railroad committee Thursday afternoon that the owners of Carolina Southern Railroad, whom he represents, are working hard to sell the line.
“Selling it to a motivated buyer, in my opinion, is the best way to resolve it,” Brittain said.
The sale of Carolina Southern moved to the forefront of possible ways to get the approximately 100-mile line running again, after governments in Horry, Marion and Columbus, N.C., counties began discussing official actions to force a sale.
The railroad has been shut down for approximately one year because of problems on some bridges that railroad owner Ken Pippin said the company can’t pay for. Attempts to get government grants for the money needed have been unsuccessful, and the governments that some members of the two-state committee represent recently petitioned the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to investigate the situation and, if necessary, for the Pippins to sell the line.
Rail customers in Horry and Columbus counties, in particular, have detailed additional costs they must incur to transport goods and the potential for lost jobs because at least one facility is no longer served by the railroad.
Brittain said the Pippins have one prospective buyer who has met with railroad committee co-chairman Doug Wendel and Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council.
There is at least one other potential buyer the Pippins have been talking with, Brittain said.
He emphasized that the sale of the railroad would be the fastest way to achieve the goal of those who have petitioned the STB – getting the railroad operating.
If the petition works its way through the entire STB process, it could take a while, and then Brittain said there could be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
But rail committee member Henry Lowenstein, a professor at Coastal Carolina University, said a forced sale of the railroad would not be delayed by an appeal of the STB’s decision.
Lowenstein said if the board’s decision is to force a sale, it will set a price and order that it be sold within 30 days.
Gary Lanier, director of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission who also sits on the two-state committee, said the STB could decide to deduct the estimated cost of needed repairs from a fair value and order the railroad be sold for the reduced amount.
Lowenstein said he’s researched other appeals of STB rulings and has not found one case where the Court of Appeals reversed any of federal board’s decisions.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.