Carolina Southern attorney files privacy motion

01/21/2014 1:18 PM

01/22/2014 12:05 PM

An attorney for Carolina Southern Railroad has filed a motion with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board asking that at least some information used to determine the fate of the railroad will remain private.

County and city governments in Horry and Marion counties and Columbus County, N.C., have asked the federal board to order a sale of Carolina Southern because it has unreasonably extended the time of a closure. The railroad, which served business customers in all three counties, has not operated for about two years on any but a few miles of its approximately 100-mile network.

The shutdown came after federal bridge inspectors found deficiencies in bridges on Carolina Southern tracks. At least some of those deficiencies need to be repaired before the railroad can restart operations.

Ken Pippin, the railroad’s owner, said the company does not have the money to make the immediate repairs, estimated to cost about $2 million.

Businesses such as Metglas and Canfor in Horry County have had to make other arrangements to ship supplies in and finished product out. A Georgia Pacific mill that employs about 400 people in Columbus County can’t operate without rail service.

Applications for federal grants to cover the cost have been unsuccessful.

The privacy motion would protect the railroad’s proprietary information as well as anything else both sides agree should be private.

“That sounds proper to me,” Pippin said Tuesday.

Neither he nor Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., know if granting the motion would speed up a resolution.

“I think (2014) is an entire year of railroad litigation,” said Lofton, who sits on a two-state committee that has been trying to get the trains running again.

He said the STB action is now in the discovery phase, where each side requests documentation of the other.

Committee members have complained about the lack of information from the railroad. The committee wants to know if the railroad had enough revenue to fund the repairs. Specifically, they have said they’d like to know what kind of easement fees the railroad has been collecting even though it is not operating.

Easement fees may be paid for things such as driveways and utilities that cross the tracks.

If the STB grants the privacy motion, only certain people involved in the case would be allowed to see the information that is placed under wraps.

Lofton said it’s standard that business information is kept private in these kinds of situations. S.C. law allows for proprietary information to remain private in dealings with governments and public agencies.

It’s unclear when the STB will rule on the privacy motion.

“It sure would be nice to go ahead and get (Carolina Southern) sold,” Lofton said.

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