Committee wants its own appraisal of Carolina Southern

A two-state railroad committee decided Wednesday that it needs its own appraisal of Carolina Southern Railroad if it expects to find an end to the railroad shutdown that has gone on for more than two years.

Committee members voted after more than an hour in executive session to get the appraisal needed to tell prospective buyers what they might expect to pay for the line that serves Horry, Marion and Columbus County, N.C.

The state of South Carolina has an appraisal it did of Carolina Southern, but it refuses to share it with the committee, committee co-chairman Doug Wendel said after Wednesday’s meeting was adjourned.

Railroad owner Ken Pippin has refused to give committee members a price he considers fair, according to Horry County Councilmen Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus, both members of the railroad committee.

Pippin said Tuesday he did not have his own appraisal, but knew the state figure and was willing to use that in negotiations. But Pippin said he has a non-disclosure agreement with the state about the appraisal and can’t give that figure out.

The state had its own appraisal done as it is considering purchasing the line to become part of the state-owned Palmetto Railways.

Wendel said that Pippin would need to cooperate with the committee’s appraiser for a good result. But he and fellow co-chairman Dennis Worley of Columbus County said it would be in Pippin’s best interest to help the committee’s appraiser as needed.

Wendel said the committee recently was close to a successful conclusion of a settlement agreement with the railroad when Pippin, at the last moment, said he wanted to break the 95-mile route into three pieces and declare two of them as abandoned. Wendel said Pippin wanted to maintain ownership of seven miles of track around Mullins that freight into and out of the rest of the line would need to travel to get to the national rail system.

On Wednesday, Wendel read an email he had gotten from Pippin saying that Pippin would participate in no more open meetings about the railroad and that unless the committee had representatives ready with an offer to buy his railroad at a meeting Tuesday, he would consider the negotiations at an end. Then, the email said, Pippin would feel free to resolve the matter as he saw fit.

The railroad shut down first in March 2012 when federal railroad inspectors told Pippin that it was no longer safe to operate trains over bridges with structural defects. At the time, Pippin said the shutdown was voluntary. It was made at least semi-permanent later that year, stranding businesses in Horry and Columbus counties who counted on Carolina Southern to transport goods to and from their operations.

Pippin has maintained that he does not have the money to make the multi-million dollar repairs and attempts have been unsuccessful to get federal grant money to pay the cost.

Last year, members of the committee expressed frustration with and distrust of Pippin and refused to sponsor another grant application. The federal grant money had to be administered by a public body.

Wendel said the committee will respond to Pippin’s demand of the Tuesday meeting, likely asking that it be moved to another date because Worley already had commitments for some days next week.

Wendel told committee members that funding for an appraisal had not yet been secured, but he expects to have it shortly. He said after the meeting that he expects it will come from a combination of public and private sources.

Also on Wednesday, committee members reaffirmed their insistence that any negotiations involve the entire railroad, and that attempts to break it into parts for separate solutions will be as unacceptable as they were in recent negotiations.

Worley said the negotiations that had seemed so promising just weeks ago have become “a battle of attorneys and war of words.”